Christmas Concert, December 2016


This year’s Christmas Concert from The Stonehaven Chorus conducted by Ralph Jamieson offered an attractive selection of music ranging from top flight choral classics by composers like Bach, William Byrd, Buxtehude or Haydn along with works by contemporary composers like the American choral master Morten Lauridsen or our own John Hearne who for many years was the Choir’s conductor. In addition, there was John Rutter whose music is often regarded as a crossover to the popular music world although his carol Dormi, Jesu, was from the more serious side of his repertoire and then Walking in the Air by Howard Blake which is a great piece but definitely “popular” even if not “pop” music.

As with most of the Christmas concerts I have attended, there were items requesting audience participation, six of them, ranging from traditional carols like Angels from the Realms of Glory to White Christmas.

Ralph Jamieson had put a lot of work into his choice of these pieces and for I Saw Three Ships, his excellent keyboard players provided clever interludes between the verses made up of pieces with sailing or water connections. It was like the old television programme “Name That Tune”. There were ten in all, starting with the opening of Wagner’s Opera, The Flying Dutchman and including The Skye Boat Song, The Mingulay Boat Song or the Song of Volga Boatmen. It was great fun and definitely kept us on our toes and in the Christmas party mood.

The performance opened with Vivaldi’s Gloria set in motion by our two excellent keyboard players Arthur Balfour and Andrew Cheyne creating between them the orchestral introduction before the Stonehaven Chorus in particularly fine voice sang the Gloria with well honed precision and energy. In Dulci Jubilo is a very attractive carol in an arrangement by R. L. Pearsall with a fine strong tenor solo sung by Paul McKay. The first of two choral works by Morten Lauridsen was O Magnum Mysterium which requires firm breath control by the chorus and they did very well. Veni, Veni Emmanuel in an arrangement by Zoltan Kodaly had a very fine section for the basses who gave it their all. The Heavens Are Telling from Haydn’s Creation was sung splendidly with a firm input from the three vocal soloists from the Choir, Zana Cohen, soprano, Paul McKay, tenor and bass Don French.

Buxtehude’s Das Neugeborn Kindeleine (The Newborn little Child) featured a bountiful instrumental accompaniment with organ sound supplied by Arthur Balfour along with four string players, Teresa Boag, Ruth Kalitski and Philip Rose, violins and Hilary Cromar, cello. The chorus sang particularly well with their support. Arthur Balfour kept the organ mode on his keyboard for John Rutter’s carol Dormi, Jesu which was one of his more classically refined compositions. John Hearne’s Gaelic Carol Taladh Chriosta used nine of the sopranos for the melody while the others joined the rest of the choir in a hummed backing. It is one of John Hearne’s most popular pieces – and no wonder. It was delightful. Sure on This Shining Night is one of my favourite pieces by Morten Lauridsen – both the words by James Agee and the musical setting by Lauridsen are absolutely delicious. I thought it was a good idea for Ralph Jamieson to read the words of the poem before the performance. The text is certainly worth it. Arthur Balfour played the piano accompaniment. I heard the piece once in Aberdeen when the composer himself was at the piano. Arthur Balfour managed to pull the chorus back on track with his organ playing in Dona Nobis Pacem from Bach’s Mass in b minor and then as an encore, the choir sang a composition by Ralph Jamieson himself – a setting of the words, The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy. I thought it was absolutely splendid – a fine conclusion to a very happy concert. To give you an idea of how much fun this concert was, when we were asked to join in with the chorus in Howard Blake’s Walking in the Air, the extra verses from the Irn Bru commercial were tacked on at the end. I watched the faces of two little girls sitting along from me in the gallery. They were a picture of sheer joy.

Well done The Stonehaven Chorus!