Christmas Concert, December 2023


Ralph Jamieson Conductor
Blair Cargill Piano and Keyboard (Organ and Harpsichord)
Ruth Kalitski and Megan McNicoll Violins


Christmas Music and Carols:

James Macmillan, William Mathias, Sarah Quartel, Michael Head, Toby Young, Benjamin Britten, Stephen Coker, Eric Whitacre, Peter Warlock

Choral Seasonal Music:

Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934)
The Snow

J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750)
Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden (Praise the Lord, all ye Nations)

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
Der Leiermann (The Hurdy Gurdy Man) from Wintereise

Instrumental Interlude:

J. S. Bach
Largo ma non tanto in F major from Concerto for two violins in d minor BWV 1043   (Two violins and Harpsichord)


Sans Day Carol,  Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,  Angels from the Realms of Glory, The Holly and the Ivy


Auld Lang Syne arranged Ralph Jamieson

The Stonehaven Chorus easily filled the front part of the Stonehaven Town Hall, in front of the stage. The women looked magnificent dressed in black but with giant sparkling red flowers pinned below the shoulder, perfect for a jubilant Christmas concert.

As you will see above from the list of pieces performed, there was something for everybody. Such a generous evening of musical entertainment.

The performance began with an unaccompanied communion motet by Sir James Macmillan, O Radient Dawn one of his Strathclyde Motets. Sung unaccompanied, the choir excelled in bringing out the delicious harmonies and the radient devotional melody used in the work.

This was followed by A Babe is Born by the Welsh composer William Matthias known for his Christmas music which often features very lively rhythmic writing. The Stonehaven Chorus certainly put that across, supported magnificently by sparklingly delicate piano accompaniment from Blair Cargill. We in the audience all joined in with a will in the Sans Day Carol, related to The Holly and the Ivy which Ralph Jamieson was going to have great fun putting us through later on.

The Huron Carol originally composed by Loreena McKennitt but performed today in an arrangement by Sarah Quartel is a Canadian Christmas Hymn with Red Indian inspiration. The female voices opened followed by the men. It is an ever more popular Christmas piece.                                        

It was the women singing by themselves who were particularly striking in the next piece, Edward Elgar’s The Snow. It is set for three part women’s voices with piano and two violins played by Ruth Kalitski and Megan McNicoll. The vocal harmonies were delicious. The words were written by Elgar’s wife Alice.

For me, it was the next piece that was the musical pinnacle of the evening. It was The Little Road to Bethlehem by Michael Head. The words by Margaret Rose are deeply affective and Michael Head’s music is beautifully poignant. I was pleased by how clearly the Stonehaven Chorus put across the words when they are so important.

Dr Toby Young of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama had two of his pieces in the programme. The Owl sung unaccompanied was rhythmically dance-like and the Stonehaven Chorus put that across with vim and verve. That was also true of the second piece, significantly entitled Come and Dance. It was sung near the end of the second part of the concert.

Following the next audience carol Hark The Herald Angels sing, the choir sang with renewed vigour in Bach’s motet Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden.

The second part of the concert opened with another audience carol, Angels from the Realms of Glory, pitched a bit too high for me to sing.

Benjamin Britten’s A Boy Was Born sung unaccompanied by the full choir was serious but pleasantly gentle. What followed could not have been more different. The Yodel Carol had Ralph Jamieson at his most jovial and fun loving. He had a special Alpine style funny hat and he himself took part in the yodelling with the choir providing echoes, high voices from the ladies and surprisingly deep from some of the men. Great fun all round!

Eric Whitacre is an American composer known both for his choral and brass writing. His music is delightfully tuneful and Glow was no exception with fine piano playing from Blair Cargill.

Also unaccompanied was Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat. It takes voices from the top to the bottom of the range. The women were excellent as were the crescendo passages for full chorus but I felt the men were somewhat challenged by this piece.

Our two violinists accompanied by Blair Cargill changing the keyboard from organ to harpsichord gave an attractive performance of the central movement of Bach’s double violin concerto.

I was surprised by the next piece, The Hurdy Gurdy Man from Schubert’s Winterreise. We have an old hurdy gurdy player in the snow with bare feet, his begging bowl empty and no one pitying him. Well there are some people for whom Christmas is not a happy time. It was however superbly well performed by the piano and the male voices.

Peter Warlock’s Bethlehem Down had attractive harmonies harking back partly to Michael Head’s piece.

Ralph Jamieson was still in jovial mood. He obviously enjoyed himself hugely putting us through our paces joining in with The Holly and the Ivy to a different tune. Downstairs and upstairs groups of audience members had to sing in canon, well sort of. I think we finally did rather well.

There followed Toby Young’s jovial Come and Dance. Were the Stonehaven Chorus tired out by now? Not a bit of it. They were up and ready to wish us a Happy New Year in Ralph Jamieson’s absolutely unusual and delightful setting of Auld Lang Syne. It was a very happy audience that made its way out of the Stonehaven Town Hall. The rain had even gone off – but not for long!