Homecoming Concert, December 2009


An early Scots song “Nou let us sing” was a thoroughly apt choice of opening number to kick-start the special Homecoming Concert given by the Stonehaven Chorus on Friday.

It introduced the various sections of the choir while suggesting which drinks, and in what quantity, would provide the ideal booster for each category of voice, starting with just a little light wine for the trebles. The basses of course were vociferous in claiming that they would be sure to benefit from as much of the hard stuff as was on tap. This rumbustious “ice breaker” introduced a note of merriment and good cheer that was to permeate almost the entire performance.

Two special guests of the Chorus, Scotland’s premier fiddle player Paul Anderson and broadcaster Mark Stephen were certainly firmly on message with Paul conjuring up lots of irresistible foot-tapping magic from his solo fiddle and Mark giving us a recitation of Tam o’ Shanter so vivid that afterwards I could have sworn I had just enjoyed a particularly good film of the story. Robert Burns was another of the concert’s principal icons so Paul Anderson charmed the audience with several of the Bard’s personal favourites including Corn Rigs and a beautiful Lament by Neil Gow, a close friend of Burns and founder of the Scots Fiddle tradition. At the end of the concert, Paul who also presented two of his own fine compositions won the most resounding ovation from the audience and no wonder, when he plays Scottish Fiddle Music it packs a knockout punch. He makes the music sound so special. Paul’s fiddle also lent support to Mark Stephen’s singing of a Burns Song in praise of the current season, “Winter: A Dirge”. Mark claimed that his voice can hardly hold a tune, but after what was a rather fine performance, conductor Dr John Hearne is going to be chasing him to join the choir.

Somehow John Hearne always manages to unearth some of the most fascinating music as well as the finest arrangements for his Chorus. It’s the same whether he picks settings by first rate Scottish arrangers like John Currie or Ken Johnston or music he has composed himself like This Aul’ Witch, a song that summed up all the creepy fun of Halloween in the cheerily eerie verses of North East author Les Wheeler nicely matched by the spirit of Dr Hearne’s music. And to round up the concert there was something really special: five choral settings of poems by Alexander McCall Smith based on famous paintings with music by Tom Cunningham, McCall Smith’s collaborator on their international opera projects. The Tower of Babel with its chaotic disintegration of both language and music, The Skating Minister based on the famous painting by Raeburn with some shameless borrowing from Emile Waldteufel and then the moving final song, Old Man with his Grandson were marvellous conceits of the imagination. A particular strength that marks Cunningham’s settings is the way in which the music boosts rather than obstructs the understanding of the texts, something that was essential to the success of these pieces; and of course none of that would have been possible without the exceptionally accomplished singing of the Stonehaven Chorus.