“It’s lovely to see St John’s Kirk so busy on a Sunday afternoon,” extolled Howard Duthie, Director of Music at St John’s, as he welcomed crowds and detailed fire exits: “and an especially big welcome if you are here for the first time, please don’t let it be your last.”
Indeed, anyone witnessing the school’s Chapel Choir perform amid the Gothic surroundings of the city centre church would certainly return.
Dr Tim Ridley from Glenlamond College, together with Henry Wallace OG, Organist and Choirmaster at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, guided the choir (including wife Amelia Wallace singing soprano and son Alex as tenor) through a beautifully crafted hour-long programme.
The event was free to attend and open to everyone.
Finzi’s ‘God is gone up’ started proceedings. Composed for the feast day of St. Cecilia in 1951, the muscular and rhythmic hymn was bookended by the organ’s dramatic fanfares.
The much calmer ‘O light of life!’ by American Mack Wilberg was characterised by leaping sixths and a plentiful supply of suspensions and a richly textured organ accompaniment.
Pupils Alexandra M, soprano, Molly R, alto, Alex W, tenor and Alex C, bass, impressed as soloists in Benjamin Britten’s ‘Rejoice in the lamb’, at 15 minutes the longest work in the programme. Based on Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno, Britten’s piece captured the rhythmic irregularities of Smart’s free-verse poetry with Glenalmond’s choir musically reproducing a sung text that flowed like spoken language.
Ireland’s finest choral masterpiece, ‘Greater Love hath no man’ surged through six scriptural readings, designed to individually illuminate God’s grace. Katie B’s soprano phrases rose and fell like arches in a Gothic cathedral.
A contemporary piece by one of the United States acclaimed composers, Morten Lauridsen, was based on references to light from scared Latin texts. ‘O nata lux’ produced frequent tempo changes, lingering on the interplay between vocal lines, creating a showpiece of a cappella in choral singing.
The mood changed to a more sombre note with the performance of Henry Balfour Gardiner’s best known work, ‘Evening hymn’ from 1908, a lush, romantic piece, full of dense harmonies. The choir, already divided into the usual four parts, soprano, alto, tenor and bass, further subdivided at points to create the requisite harmonic intensity: classic English choral repertoire and an evensong perennial.
If your emotions weren’t already piqued, the timeless and haunting ‘Shenandoah’ surely reached the parts others had missed. James Erb’s contemporary interpretation of the 1882 folk song was written comparatively recently in 1971. Beautiful harmonies and elongated echoes in the third verse were created by the three-part canon between the two soprano parts and the altos. The audience were transfixed and this piece, without doubt, received the loudest applause.
And so to the end. Herbert Howells’ ‘Te Deum’ took you out with a bang. Taken from Howells 1944 Collegium Regale, the piece was composed for the choir of King’s college, Cambridge. Modal-feeling melodies, contrasted with lush harmonic passages and the strong, independent organ accompaniment evoked an aura of the finest church music, carrying this unique performance to its conclusion.
THis piece featured in the Perthshire Advertiser on Friday 10 March 2017.
Music Scholarships at Glenalmond