THE “BIG Kirk” in Lerwick opened its newly-painted doors to the public last Friday, when Shetland Choral Society presented its annual Christmas concert.
St Columba’s Church has seen its lower floor totally refurbished, and an audience of over 300 was treated to plush chairs, beautiful wooden floors and panelling, and wonderfully improved acoustics.
The choir was once more conducted by Nigel Hayward, who has a special fondness for the building. His father had sung in Handel’s Messiah in that same church in 1942, when the choral society first performed, and his daughter was also leading the orchestra in this performance.
A group of local musicians, comprising strings, recorders and organ, accompanied the choir of almost 60 voices, and it was heartening to see that almost one third of the singers were men. As usual the audience was invited to participate in a selection of carols throughout the evening. From the standard of the singing, it was obvious to the choir that a goodly proportion of them could have joined the performers on the stage.
The main work in the first half was The Christmas Story by the 17th century German composer Heinrich Schütz. Not particularly well-known in this country, it was first performed on Christmas Day 1660 in Dresden.
The Christmas Story is narrated by the evangelist, while soloists and choir punctuate in turn. The tenor James Geer, due to sing the part of the narrator, was unfortunately struck down by flu at the last minute, to be replaced by Henry Howard. He performed his part from the commanding position of the pulpit, which proved very effective, and was accompanied on the organ by Deirdre Hayward.
Although there are not many full choruses in this work, it was good to see how much talent was available from within the choir, as evinced by the various trios, quartets and soloists (Helen Robertson, Emily Sharpe and Lawrence Radley).
The second half of the programme proved somewhat more familiar to the audience, and therefore perhaps easier to appreciate. Two traditional carols, one of which featured the voice of tenor Martin Naylor, were followed by a selection of three of Rachmaninov’s Vespers from The All-Night Vigil. Based on the music of the Russian Orthodox Church, these were performed unaccompanied, in the original Russian, and were very well received by the audience.
The final set of five carols included the unusual Summer in Winter and John Rutter’s Christmas Lullaby. Nigel Hayward had again turned his hand to composition, and the audience was treated to his beautiful arrangements of O Little One Sweet and The Angel Gabriel. The set finished with the traditional English carol Here We Come A’Wassailing, where tenors and basses featured at the beginning and end.
No Christmas concert would be complete without a rendering of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and this finale was performed with gusto on both sides of the conductor’s podium.
Judging from the prolonged applause at the end of the performance, it would seem that the combination of “da big kirk” and “da choral” was a successful one.
Contributed ? Shetland Choral Society will be performing again on Monday, this time in the boat hall at the Shetland Museum.
To help get people in the Christmas spirit, the choir (or as many of them as can make it) will be singing a selection of carols from 11.45am. They will include some of the pieces sung in the concert, but also several old favourites. Folk can come along and listen, or join in if they feel the urge.