St. JAMES’S CHURCH, STONEHAVEN
The undoubted highlight of last Sunday’s concert by the Stonehaven Chorus in St. James Episcopal Church was a work they first performed in collaboration with the Gothenburg Sinfonietta at their concert in the Music Hall, Aberdeen in December 1995. This was Förklädd Gud or A God Disguised by the Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson. Sunday’s performance brought the Stonehaven Chorus together with Aberdeen Sinfonietta in a work that was ideally suited to the forces that conductor John Hearne had at his disposal, a superb chorus and orchestra. Since the earlier performance with the Gothenberg musicians, John Hearne has prepared and published a new English translation of the original Swedish text and it was this version that was sung on Sunday. Soprano and baritone soloists Gillian and Gordon Jack were joined by Grampian TV personality Chris Harvey who gave the spoken narration that is central to the work. Based on a poem by Hjalmar Gullberg, it concerns a Grecian legend telling of the God Apollo who was sent down to earth to live among mortals disguised as a humble shepherd. The message of the text is that one should be kind to the most humble stranger, for he could be a God in disguise.
The work begins and ends with an interlude for orchestra alone, with sensational playing by Aberdeen Sinfonietta. Chris Harvey’s beautifully clear narration bound together the whole import of the text while the two soloists Gillian and Gordon Jack carried the emotional impact of the music to its summit in their duet. The Stonehaven Chorus were at their very best in this music which they have made their own. The sense of optimism that is at the very heart of this music radiated from their singing.
Although this last work was the highlight of the concert, the other two works were not far behind. The Chorus was equally hearty in a joyful performance of Haydn’s St. Nicholas Mass. In this work contralto Joyce Wintour and tenor Andrew Locke Nicholson who gave a particularly fine performance joined the line up of soloists. The ensemble pieces were superbly well balanced.
The third piece in the concert was an arrangement of four Icelandic Folk Songs Summernights in the Fjords by John Hearne. His luminous orchestral writing was especially impressive. I was reminded of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne. The first two songs were happy childhood songs cheerfully sung by the Chorus. The second two were in a darker hue but Gordon Jack’s smooth singing subtly backed by the chorus and beautiful orchestral writing made the music glow with colour.