Christmas got off to the perfect start on Friday in the company of Shetland Choral Society and members of the Shetland Community Orchestra.
Conductor Peter Davis had selected the ideal programme for the season with Vivaldi’s Gloria, a delicious selection of carols (including some original items) and an orchestral treasure, the Pastorale from Concerto Grosso in G minor, Opus 6 number 8 by the Italian composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli.
The new Lerwick Baptist Church at Quoys was an excellent venue: great acoustics, wonderful space and light, enhanced by a splendid Christmas tree covered in a constellation of tiny white lights and the lovely multi-coloured cross in the sea blue alcove behind. In addition, the seats are really comfortable and the building is beautifully warm.
The Gloria’s startling staccato bars opened with well-paced, fine descending chords, a fanfare that set the blood tingling – violins building the mood and every eye on Davis.
A moment of silence and Nigel Hayward’s soft organ chords led in the Et in Terra section. Rhythmic building of emotional tension here from the strings. Lovely weaving of rising soprano against warm alto and tenor richness, fine deep pulse from the basses.
The Laudamus te with Arabelle Bentley and Helen Robertson was a soaring, sweet success, note perfect with well controlled breathing backed by gentle strings.
Two voices together make delightful listening. A touch more clarity of diction would have made some of the words easier to hear.
Gratias Agimus brought in contrasting weight, strong slow marching waves, perfectly revealing the full power of the choir, resolving into a glorious final chord.
A sustained, silent moment allowed the Domine Deus a perfect entrance with Nigel’s sad-sweet organ and silvery soprano tones, beautifully supported by the deep string notes, tender cello and viola. This piece was perhaps taken a trifle too slowly, making it harder to breathe through the long phrases.
Yet more contrasts with the fresh, brisk entrance of Domine Fili. Tripping, skipping strings adding humour and lightness. This section saw Davis at his conducting best; his whole body dancing, directing to the different sections of orchestra and choir.
As his hands describe slow double, reflected “S” shapes which draw every eye and as the fingers tighten on the final curl, massed sound simply stops on the instant. Magical!
The device is artistry, perhaps not surprising from an artist-conductor.
Christine Ferguson’s Qui tollis had perfect, clear diction, the choir sections blending beautifully with the orchestra, though at times, during quieter solo passages, the strings were a bit overpowering.
The demanding Qui sedes followed, in typically contrasting pace, fast and furious with unexpected rhythms. Two soloists together here might have been an idea, strengthening the melody when the orchestra was in full heart.
Quoniam tu solus shone with Alison Martin’s clarion trumpet element and Vivaldi’s entrancing melodies and almost jazz-like rhythms. Vibrant tenor and bass lines against beautiful arching soprano phrases, echoes from radiant altos.
Finally came the Cum sanctus, the climax of the whole piece. The choir and orchestra rose to the challenge, rising into a splendid, processional ending. Peter held the last chord one breathless moment, and the audience erupted into applause.
It was a masterly performance with extra sparkle and note and word perfect singing, helped perhaps by the very successful “bring and sing” Gloria earlier in the year.
After the short interval, Davis turned to the audience, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge of the items selected in the second half.
The Gloria was a hard act to follow, but follow it they did. Nigel Hayward’s piano accompaniment to John Rutter’s Star Carol was superb and paved the way for a real treat with his own construction of Rosetti’s Love Came Down at Christmas and the choir embraced it with some very tender unaccompanied singing.
Myn Lyking began with another heart-melting piano introduction; silvery sopranos folded round with altos and base and tenor parts.
The audience sang next and Hark the Herald Angels Sing nearly lifted the roof. Charpentier’s Salve Puerule followed, splendidly carried, particularly by the orchestra-only verses, which whetted the appetite for their main piece.
O Holy Night warmly rendered, preceded the next audience carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
The orchestra’s Pastorale, written in about 1690 and wonderfully played, simply swept the audience away. This orchestra is getting seriously good.
Mary’s Boy Child can be very sugary but this arrangement was enjoyable and had some fine soprano unison singing.
A delightful traditional spiritual Come and See was arranged by Davis himself. The bright, light touch, syncopation and lovely harmonies gave the choir full range of their skills. More please.
A massed O Come all ye Faithful then a magnificent Twelve Days of Christmas with Peter’s conducting, Nigel’s wonderful piano and every single performer giving their all in a fabulous finale. The applause included some real joyful shouting.
All in all a great evening of first-class music was had by all. The choir’s confidence showed in the sea of joyful singing faces.
Roll on the next concert, and even more creative use of local soloists. Duets? Trios?
With a last lively We Wish You a Merry Christmas, the concert was over and the festive season really had begun.
Jill Slee Blackadder