From Cathedrals to Cottonfields, May 2010


Given that the previous concert by the Stonehaven Chorus in December last year was for Homecoming Scotland rather than their traditional Christmas Fare there were no popular carols for the audience to join in singing. Their latest concert in St. James’s Church on Sunday corrected that omission with the opportunity for a near full house audience to join in with some of the best loved hymns with the choir or even just by themselves. With favourites like “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” and even better for a seaside town, “Will your Anchor Hold”, the audience response was wholehearted indeed.

The choir’s conductor Dr John Hearne was reminded of the time when he went with another choir to a Welsh Chapel where he said the congregation were better than the choir. A bit of an exaggeration on Sunday though especially when the Chorus set the performance aglow singing Hubert Parry’s magnificent coronation anthem “I was Glad when they said unto Me” with St. James’s organ played by Ben Torrie also sounding in magnificent voice.

The first half of the performance concentrated largely on English or British music with the spirit of the cathedral or the parish choir in mind. Two motets by C. V. Stanford stood out as extra special performances along with John Coath’s Stabat Mater which introduced the baritone soloist Peter Webster in particularly fine voice too. “Not a particularly difficult piece”, commented Dr Hearne but it was tremendously effective.

More challenging were some of the more contemporary pieces including the beautifully coloured harmonies of Paul Mealor’s Locus Iste or the more surprising harmonies of John Hearne’s Crux Fidelis or Ave verum corpus by the Swedish composer Frederik Sixten whom the Stonehaven Chorus introduced to Scotland just recently. Bringing the first half to a joyful even riotous close was the world premiere of another John Hearne composition Exultate Deo. His setting of the words dealing with harps, timbrels and trumpets was splendid.

The second half of the concert took us to the USA and to the Negro Spirituals in them old cottonfields back home. Peter Webster gave stirring spirit-warming renditions of Good News, Deep River, Jacob’s Ladder and more with the chorus echoing his words. It was never going to have quite the crazy soul swing of the genuine coloured choruses but it was pretty inspiring all the same. The concert concluded with Randall Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom which was another Stonehaven Chorus introduction to Scotland if not the entire UK. It is something of a tour de force of startlingly high powered choral writing. I am not sure about the title however. There is nothing very peaceable about this often quite violent fire and brimstone music; still, another fine performance from the Stonehaven Chorus.