The evening sunshine at the Quoys Baptist Church was the perfect setting for the Shetland Choral Society’s annual spring concert on Friday.
Instead of their customary formal black the choir filed in clad in fresh, spring-coloured tops. After a warm welcome from the choir’s musical director, Peter Davis, the rendering of the traditional madrigal of the 16th century, “Now is the month of maying” was a perfectly apt opening to a delightful evening.
Davis alluded to the ribald nature of a few of the verses of the early madrigals and folk songs and indeed the choir sang these with vigour and humour. All were in good voice; the basses and tenors were in particularly robust form with the tenor tone especially pleasing.
The origin of the songs was diverse and each composer was introduced in detail by Davis. British composer E J Moeran is not well known but we learnt that he was a survivor of World War One but a casualty of alcohol. Judging from the original songs and arrangements we heard he deserves greater recognition.
Three Hungarian Folksongs by Matyas Seiber followed and were equally worthwhile and the song Just as the Tide was Flowing by Vaughan Williams was beautifully sung.
Then came the familiar, poignant strains of Rowin’ Foula Doon; ‘Da Sang o da Papa Men’, Vagaland’s poem with music arranged for the choir by Davis for this concert was simply “special”.
This was followed by another highlight Shallow Brown, which can be a sorrowful sea shanty but lived up to Mr Davis’s description of the eccentric Percy Grainger’s evocation of the surging waves which assailed poor Shallow Brown’s fishing boat. Movingly sung by special guest soloist for the night, Andy Ross, the shanty was backed by the relentless “billows” of the tenors and basses.
The Lost Lady Found, also arranged by Grainger, followed and conveyed a rather grim tale of passion and death closing the first half.
The excellent acoustic of the church as well as the lovely evening and the professional quality of the choir were regular topics of the capacity audience during the interval.
The second half didn’t disappoint. In operatic mode, the choir dispatched Smetana’s opening chorus from The Bartered Bride as though they were in a performance of it.
The familiar, and much-loved Easter Hymn from Mascagni’s Cavaliera Rusticana was enhanced by pleasing solos from Paul Hastie and Arabelle Bentley, both members of the choir.
This was followed by Vaughan Williams’ setting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Songs of Travel. Peter Havilland and Andy Ross have collaborated in this song cycle in the past. It was well worth their reviving the partnership as they gave a most convincing performance together.
Ross’s notable career in opera and in vocal tuition was certainly exemplified.
The operatic voice returned with the choir in Verdi’s Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. While spring was not in the air here, the choir certainly created the unanimity and colour required of an opera chorus.
The programme was very cleverly devised by Davis. The three Rogers and Hammerstein numbers which concluded the concert provided a fond tribute to The Sound of Music and its classic numbers.
Maria’s famous opening and the anthem, Climb Every Mountain showed the choir and the director still had the energy with which they began the concert. To this end Davis urged us all to join in a reprise of Climb Every Mountain, a number of us did tentatively attempt a hillock.
The concert closed with the memorably catchy State Fair number It might as well be Spring. So ended a thoroughly satisfying spring evening of song from a slightly smaller, tighter knit Shetland Choral. However, Davis encouraged more folk to join “da choral” for the annual Christmas Concert (rehearsals begin in August).
The splendid evening proved again what a versatile group of singers they are and under Davis’s energetic direction, an energy which he communicates to the choir so effectively, and with the ever sensitive accompanist Nigel Hayward, shows that ‘da choral’ are an essential part of Shetland’s cultural life.