The Shetland Choral Society put on their annual Christmas concert last Wednesday in the wonderful acoustic of St Columba’s Church.
As a newcomer to the Shetland music scene it was my first opportunity to hear this group and I was immediately impressed with their enthusiasm.
They have obviously been working very hard under conductor Phil Taylor to learn a very ambitious programme of music, which included three pieces by contemporary composer John Taverner and highlights from Handel’s Messiah.
Unfortunately Mr Taylor was unable to conduct the concert. This was ably done in his absence by former conductor Nigel Hayward.
The concert began with a spirited rendition of the Zither Carol, which displayed the good full sound this choir can produce as well as the good, clear soprano line. The sopranos were an outstanding feature throughout the concert.
This was followed by the three Taverner pieces, the first being God Is With Us. This begins with a male chorus and to be really effective they could have used a few more basses to bring out the depth in the scoring. However, the men sang with excellent ensemble in the opening despite their small numbers, and the choir displayed their full rich sound in the fortissimo sections. Soloist Martin Naylor’s clear tenor voice carried well in the beautiful acoustic.
The Lamb was the most challenging piece on the programme and was sung well with excellent diction, while Mr Hayward’s clear conducting helping to achieve a fine sense of ensemble. The choir coped really well with the demands of the contemporary harmonies and gave a sensitive performance.
Finally, Today the Virgin was given a very energetic performance. All in all, while they did not have the technique to deliver all the subtleties of the music, they managed to capture and communicate the spirit of the music.
The Taverner was followed by Te Harinui, a New Zealand Christmas song which had been arranged and conducted by assistant conductor Kirsteen Straine for the female voices of the choir. It was beautifully sung with excellent diction and a rich sound which brought out the harmonies. Later in the programme Road to Bethlehem was also well done and this was an excellent conducting debut by Ms Striane.
The Shepherd’s Farewell by Berlioz is a Christmas favourite and the excellent soprano line shone through once again. The men did well not to be outdone by the ranks of women in this piece. It is a credit to the skill of both conductors that the choir has developed a generally good balance of sound in spite of the men being outnumbered by about five to one. There was some lovely quiet singing in this number and although a little on the fast side to bring out all the beautiful harmonies, it was well done.
The second half featured selections from Messiah. Here, the choir was accompanied by a small string ensemble so full marks for giving us an authentic performance. The Overture was well played with crisp dotted rhythms. This small group of strings made a good warm sound and it is nice to see two young players leading with such maturity.
And the Glory displayed the well-developed ensemble singing of the group, and was a strong performance. For Unto Us was taken at an excellent tempo, which allowed the singers to handle the semiquaver passages with ease.
Although some of the entries in the quieter sections were a little weak, the strong passages were full and exciting. Glory to God and the Hallelujah chorus were both sung with vigour, energy and good tight rhythm. This was an excellent performance, enhanced by the strong orchestral accompaniment.
This was a very enjoyable evening of choral music well sung. Full credit goes to Mr Taylor, who had prepared the choir well, and to Mr Hayward who had the difficult job of stepping in at short notice. Diedre Hayward provided sensitive accompaniments on the piano and keyboard throughout the evening.
This was a large and ambitious programme and perhaps a slightly smaller programme would have allowed the choir more time to work on the more difficult numbers. What the choir is lacking in some areas of technique they more than make up for with energy and commitment. With some work on quiet singing and rhythmic tightness this group has the potential to become a really excellent choir. They have a good strong rich sound and sing with conviction and honesty.
I look forward to their next concert and would encourage any singers out there, especially men, to consider joining this excellent group.