The following review has been submitted by Linda Ormiston, Honorary President of SCS:
Well, it might have been freezing outside in Kirk St, as the capacity audience queued to get into the Scout and Guide Hall for Strathaven Choral Society’s ever popular Christmas concert but once inside, the music on offer was such as to warm up even the frosty heart of Dickens’ Scrooge!
This was a departure from their usual Christmas programme and with the addition of the fabulous Coalburn Silver Band, it was an absolute feast of words and music followed by a feast of mince pies!
I love a brass band; I once had the privilege of performing with the famed Blackdyke Mills Band and the sound of a really good brass band can’t be beaten. The Coalburn Silver Band has been going strong since 1902 but I had never heard of, never mind heard them previously – rest assured I will certainly be looking out for any future performances. They literally blew us away with their first chord! Once in Royal David’s City perfectly set the musical tone of the evening.
The Messiah is staple fare for any choral society and the choir’s performance of “And the Glory” was as polished as I would expect with Christopher Barr at the helm – well balanced musically if not numerically between the sections of the choir and with excellent attention to detail. I especially appreciated that the sopranos coped extremely well with Handel’s high lying lines, without forcing their tone. This was the hallmark of everything the choir sang – good balance, clear diction with real understanding of the texts and very interesting range of colours and dynamics.
As well as the standard Christmas repertoire, the choir also introduced a number of new pieces – the first of which was a new setting of the Coventry Carol, which featured the lovely soprano voice of Sarah O’Reilly, soaring above the choir. Can you hear Me was another new item, written by Edward Rhys Harry to compliment the Peace and Truce initiative of the Olympic Movement, which reminded me slightly of Leonard Bernstein’ great hymn of hope at the end of Candide – Let our Garden Grow.
When the Coalburn Silver Band let rip in their first solo spot of the evening, we were treated to a wonderful wall of sound, which quite took one’s breath away. With a wonderful range of sounds from brass instruments, there was some phenomenal playing from all sections of the band, under the inspiring baton of their conductor, Gareth Bowman. A real treat for the packed hall on such a cold winter’s evening.
The standard of music-making was just as high in the second half, starting with a brisk performance of another chorus from The Messiah – For Unto Us, followed by a brand new carol, written for the 2014 BBC Radio 3 carol competition by the choir’s very own, Mike Cunningham. Although it hadn’t made the final 6 short leet, it was an excellent setting of a quirky poem by Susan Hill, Can it be True, which the choir embraced enthusiastically and really made it their own. Well done, Mike!
We then had more numbers from the Silver Band, including a novel arrangement of the 12 Days of Christmas and then the Band and the Choral Society joined forces for some rousing carols and a rumbustious rendition of The Snow Waltz by Goff Richards, which had echoes of a German Beer Festival! I should also mention Angel Tidings by John Rutter, a particular favourite of Fiona Hobson, the hard-working and talented accompanist for the Choral Society. This was Fiona’s last concert with the choir and I join with them in wishing her all the best in the future – she will be sorely missed. She would have enjoyed Angel Tidings – the choir were in top rate form – crisp diction, quality sound and real music-making.
Christopher said that it was quite difficult for both he and Gareth to conduct the Choral Society and the Band at the same time, with Gareth on the stage, facing the Band but with his back to Christopher on the floor. Not that you would have noticed – from where I was sitting, it was seamless and the two groups were in perfect synch at all times. I must also pay tribute to the two readers, Linda Menzies and Nic Broadbridge, who brought another dimension to this multi-faceted evening – all in all, a wonderful ending to the Reindeer Day and a spectacular concert to get us in the Christmas spirit!