St. JAMES’ CHURCH, STONEHAVEN
The Stonehaven Chorus were in particularly fine voice in St James’ Church on Sunday for their annual Spring Concert, part of their ongoing 70th Anniversary Celebrations.Their sheer enthusiasm blazed forth in the opening piece, a setting of Psalm 150, in Latin, Laudate Dominum, composed by the choir’s conductor Ralph Jamieson. It was a dazzlingly colourful life affirming work whose text praises God with the sounds of a host of musical instruments – ‘Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet’. It goes on to mention psaltery and harp, timbrel and dance, strings and organs, loud and high sounding cymbals. Ralph Jamieson includes several of these in his score, trumpets and organ certainly, along with horns and yes at one point, a loud cymbal crash. It opened with xylophones played by Isabel John and Chris Overton and later along with joyous colourful swirls and eddies of choral sound, piano, timpani and at the end, deep organ. And of course that cymbal crash!
The second piece in the concert was very much darker, concentrating not on life but on death. This was Henry Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, wife of William of Orange who died in 1694. Each of the choral sections was preceded and followed by a Brass Canzona a kind of brass chorale with timpani played so meaningfully by Isabel John. These instrumental interludes sounded rich and dignified even if sombre and the choral sections accompanied on organ played by Antony Baldwin concluded with wonderfully rich chordal singing in the Anthem, Thou Knowest Lord. The chorus sounded resplendent in this.
Benedicite by Vaughan Williams is another life affirming piece. All sorts of natural wonders are encouraged to praise the Lord, everything from Sun, Moon and Stars, Wind, Frost, Mountains and Seas the Children of Men – everything in fact. In this piece all the performers, instrumentalists and choir were brought together in a splendid clarion call of praise. One of our special guest soloists Moira Docherty rejoiced in a marvellous solo extravaganza in the later part of the piece. Soaring above the joyous choral and instrumental performers she was fantastic – and her top notes at the end of the work – oh wow!
The second half of the concert was devoted to one of the finest musical works ever composed, Mozart’s Requiem. Although we cannot be sure how much of it was actually composed by Mozart himself as the excellent programme note explained, I tend to agree with Beethoven who is claimed to have said, ‘If Mozart did not write the music, then the man who wrote it was a Mozart’.
Organ, brass and timpani provided the orchestral backing carefully selected for each section of the work as required. What really hit me in the face though was the absolutely magnificent choral singing given to us throughout the entire work by the Stonehaven Chorus. To my astonishment, the male chorus were better, more powerful more exciting than I have ever heard them or in many other choirs for that matter. The basses at the beginning really hit home. Later on there was beautiful transparent singing from the female voices – just lovely. The four soloists were excellent in the quartets – often deliciously well balanced. In solo sections soprano Moira Docherty and tenor Paul McKay really shone forth. Altogether it was a totally captivating performance and if Ralph Jamieson had chosen at times rather slow tempi, they were not quite as slow as a famous recording made by Leonard Bernstein near the end of his career – and you can’t say better than that. So well done everybody!