Spring Concert review

Spring Concert Review…..

On 19th March, the Garleton Singers presented an inspiring programme of music at St Mary’s, Haddington. Entitled “The Coming of Spring”, they were supported by the Garleton Singers Orchestra, and led by their tireless conductor, Stephen Doughty.

The evening opened with a splendid rendering of ‘Upon Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring’ by Frederick Delius. This well-loved favourite began the evening most appropriately; its dreamy, bucolic quality, evoking a warm spring day, with the promise of warmer and sunnier days to come, was performed adroitly by the orchestra under the skilful direction of Stephen Doughty.

The choir had prepared two different main offerings for each half of the programme, each one evoking different moods and traditions connected with Spring. In Haydn’s ‘Spring’, we had all the skill, classical elegance, humour and honesty of a composer writing at his very best. The soloists set the tone for the work by complementing each other beautifully with their unforced, yet very confident, rendering of the opening trio. Indeed, Emma Morwood’s lovely voice, completely free of any shrill or over-dramatic quality and yet full of expression, was perfect for the Haydn. John Arthur, the baritone soloist, and Conor Breen, the tenor, interpreted their parts (in both the Haydn and also the Mendelssohn in the second half) with great skill and feeling. They were supported in the choruses by the choir, who blended their voices in a most harmonious balance.

Opening the second half of the concert, the choir gave a rendering of two short choral pieces. The first, sung by the male voices of the choir, was ‘A Madrigal’ by Humphrey John Stewart, a tremendous piece of fun and a real romp, enjoyed by all – both singers and listeners. The second was a lovely rendering by the Sopranos and Altos of ‘Spring’ by Gustav Holst. Here the women’s voices showed themselves to great advantage.

The women were again able to show their strengths in the final work, the lesser known cantata by Mendelssohn, ‘Die Erste Walpurgisnacht’. It has all the classical quality we associate with earlier composers, such as Mozart and Haydn, which is then combined with some real drama, which the choir clearly enjoyed and sang with great gusto. This is a work full of dark doings, Druids and forests on the surface but, in fact, it has a subtler message, appealing for tolerance towards persecuted minorities and probably has as much resonance today as at any time. Here, however, it’s ‘diese dumpfen Pfaffenchristen’ (‘these stupid Christian priests’) who are the ‘baddies’, overzealous Christians persecuting a pagan minority. The music is an amazing tour de force of choruses and solos, preceded by a very dramatic overture, the whole work lasting just over half an hour. Mendelssohn captures the drama and romance of the setting but does so in a strictly classical way. Once again both soloists and chorus caught the sense of drama without losing classical poise in the more dramatic moments, and and they clearly enjoyed it. One member of the choir is particularly worthy of mention: Grace McKinnon interpreted the aria of ‘an aged woman of the people’ in a remarkably dramatic and skilful way.

By the end of the evening some of us were asking ourselves why these pieces by Haydn and Mendelssohn are less performed or well known, since they contain some of the most inspired writing of these two great geniuses.

I am sure we all look forward to Stephen Doughty’s next concert with the Garleton Singers at St Mary’s, on Monday 29th May.