Spring Concert, May 2024

Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924)
Messa Di Gloria: First Performance 12 July 1880

The Stonehaven Chorus, Conductor Ralph Jamieson
Christian Schneeberger Tenor Soloist
Zorbay Turkalp Bass Soloist
Blair Cargill Piano
Neil Roxburgh Piano

Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934) In a special transcription by Ralph Jamieson

The Stonehaven Chorus, Conductor Ralph Jamieson
Joanne Whalley Coloratura Soprano Soloist
Blair Cargill Piano
Neil Roxburgh Piano
Kirsty Watson Keyboard (Organ)

Wendy Harding, Ben Hartley, Isabel John, Patrick Nolan, Chris Overton.

Sunday’s Spring Concert by the Stonehaven Chorus was one of the most unusual and fascinating performances they have ever given. Concentrating specifically on the second piece, Ralph Jamieson’s marvellous transcription of Gustav Holst’s First Choral Symphony, Op.41, this was also undoubtedly one of their best ever performances.

Actually, both works were unusual in different ways. Puccini’s original title of his Messa Di Gloria was simply Messa or Messa a quatro voci. Strictly speaking, the piece is a full Mass. A true Messa di Gloria would contain only the Kyrie and the Gloria omitting the Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. Actually the Gloria is the largest and most powerful part of the work. The Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei are relatively short in comparison.

The Kyrie gave us a gentle and tuneful opening with a delicate piano solo beautifully played by Blair Cargill. The choir harmonies floated gently and tunefully through the Stonehaven Town Hall, delighting the audience and promising more appealing music to come. When the second piano came in later, played by Neil Roxburgh, it accentuated the bass line of the music. The choral music fairly blossomed forth with rich singing from all the parts in the Stonehaven Chorus. The Gloria opened with an extended tenor solo sung with operatic effusiveness by Christian Schneeberger to the words Gratias agimus tibi. Gloria in exelsis Deo had the two pianos nicely melded together with the choir responding dramatically, even operatically, to Puccini’s writing.

In the Credo, Puccini passes over the, dare I say, less emotionally charged passages, but then he gives full operatic reign to the more crucial passages. Our excellent tenor declaims the words Et incarnatus then the bass Zorbay Turkalp, with a darker dramatic power, takes on the words Crucifixus. The choir responds rejoicing in the words Et Resurrexit very much in operatic chorus style.

The bass soloist, sounding more warm and emotionally engaging is given the Benedictus as his special solo. The Agnus Dei brought together the tenor and bass soloists in delightful duet singing and the final Dona Nobis Pacem has the pianos and choir at their most pleadingly powerful.

Ralph Jamieson controlled the changing dynamics of the music. He brought forth the emotional surges of the music. I was impressed by the way in which the chorus responded instantly to his leads.

Having seen the huge setup of percussion instruments laid out in front of the choir ready for Holst’s First Choral Symphony, a work which I had never heard before, I thought, ‘Wow! This is going to be really loud!’ I could not have been more wrong. There were indeed four tuned percussion instruments, marimba, xylophone, vibraphone and glockenspiel. There were a set of timpani, bass drum, tam tam, two pianos and a keyboard set to sound like an organ. Yes, and many more incidental percussion instruments, cymbals, tambourine and so forth. However, Ralph Jamieson’s transcription was, more than anything else, astonishingly delicate. The multiplicity of instruments gave an explosive sound only a couple of times. They were all there really to give breadth rather than strength of sound. I was amazed and impressed by the way in which the chorus also performed with a similar delicacy and transparency throughout the work. The male voices in particular were incisive yet clear and wonderfully expressive.

Soprano soloist Joanne Whalley was clear, clean toned and soaringly powerfully in all her solos. In the first movement, Song and Bacchanal, she absolutely excelled. This followed the opening Prelude: Invocation to Pan in which Kirsty Watson’s keyboard gave us a long floating organ sound.

The second movement, Ode on a Grecian Urn, had marvellous smooth singing from the altos and then the full choir responded likewise. Near the end of the movement, the soprano has a solo for John Keats’s famous words, Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

The third movement Scherzo: Fancy – Folly’s Song had captivating rhythmic singing from the female voices backed by xylophone, glockenspiel with the two pianos playing perfectly in rhythmic tandem. Folly’s Song was given to the choir in splendid style followed by an extended instrumental section. The finale led into a final soprano solo, unaccompanied and utterly beautiful.

This work was receiving its première performance. I thought it was absolutely amazing, never to be forgotten. Every moment of the music held me transfixed. The Stonehaven Chorus sang as brilliantly as they ever have in this work. I believe Ralph Jamieson has had his transcription published. If this results in a professional recording, either by the Stonehaven Chorus, or another group, and it should, I will certainly be up for buying myself a copy.