A review of our most recent concert by Linda Ormiston OBE (Honorary President)
Strathaven Choral Society delivered another feast of music last Sunday in St. Mary’s Church, Hamilton with a dazzling range of music and styles. The concert was called ‘Vivaldi Meets the Cool’ and it was certainly the first time I had heard George Shearing and Antonio Vivaldi on the same bill! Add in some sparkling jazz playing from New Focus Duo and a pre-world premiere try-out of a new choral piece and the whole definitely added up to be greater than the sum of its parts. Full marks to all the performers and especially Christopher Barr, the Choral Society’s conductor and ever inventive programmer.
The Shakespeare settings by jazz pianist, George Shearing were a revelation – wonderfully rich harmonies and quirky rhythms with a jazzy piano and saxophone accompaniment as you might expect but Shearing also brought a real delicacy of touch to the songs, which the choir exploited with relish. There was some lovely legato singing with absolutely no forcing of the glorious balanced tone for which the choir are now renowned. Diction was crystal clear at all times and Christopher ensured that the start and finish of each and every phrase choir was particularly well executed. The thick harmonic chords were always well tuned and the rhythms crisp and clear. I especially enjoyed the setting of Who is Sylvia, which made you completely forget the more familiar tune and was full of glorious dense harmonies and also the following Fie on sinful fantasy, which showed off really clear enunciation and perfect light, crisp rhythms. The Songs and Sonnets concluded with an almost folk song-like setting of Hey, ho, the wind and the rain, with a dialogue between the male and female sections of the choir with a real jazzy flourish at the end.
New focus duo are saxophonist, Konrad Wiszniewski and pianist/composer, Euan Stevenson and they certainly showed off their musical skills in their solo spot, including a memorable version of Lullaby of Birdland.
Euan is in the middle of writing a new choral suite for a high school choir in Ohio to be premiered later this year and we were privileged to hear a preview of the first movement. He told me after the concert that it was really interesting for him to hear it in performance for the first time. Euan obviously has a talent for vocal writing and singing in Hebrew seemed to be no problem for the Choral Society!
The second half of the concert was a performance of Vivaldi’s popular Gloria, one of my favourites! The choir was joined by soprano, Joanna Norman and mezzo, Lynn Bellamy and at the organ, David Hamilton, a former conductor of Strathaven Choral and a fantastic organist. It never fails to amaze me how Christopher manages to balance the sound of the choir when there is such a numerical imbalance between the female and male sections. This was particularly striking in the second movement after the rousing opening Gloria, with all the sections spinning out the long lines with some fine legato singing but still with the required definition. The duet, Laudamus Te was beautifully sung by Joanna and Lynn, with some fine interweaving of the lines, where one could hardly tell which line was sung by which singer, excellently accompanied by David Hamilton on the organ. There were some energetic and well defined runs from the choir in Propter Magnam which led into the ravishingly sung soprano solo, Domine Deus. Domine Filii kept the rhythms strong with no loss of legato line and Lynn made much of both of her solos, especially the powerful Qui Sedes, which showed off her rich mezzo voice beautifully. The Gloria was brought to a splendid climax with the final, exhilarating Cum Sancto Spiritu.
Another first class evening of music-making with the ladies and gentlemen of Strathaven Choral Society and friends, under the ever watchful and inspiring Musical Director, Christopher Barr.