Review: Visions of Paradise

Tonight’s concert was fun, despite not being able to get into St Mary’s Cathedral when we were supposed to, due to the Dunedin Consort’s Sir Michael Tippett Centenary Concert living up to its name and lasting almost exactly 100 years!! (I wonder if Tippett lives in Brigadoon.)

We retreated to Walpole Hall. “I look for three things in a good rehearsal space,” said conductor Will Dawes, “a good acoustic, the right temperature, and that it doesn’t smell.” Walpole Hall failed gloriously on all three counts. Vacated by a group of martial artists just as we were entering, this wind tunnel of a hall positively glowed with the scent of perspiring athletes! Erugh!

This was my first public appearance with a choir since the NYCGB reunion choir last year, at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham, and a better sounding choir I couldn’t have hoped to have sung with. There were parts of the Penderecki and Duruflé that were still being sight-read, but the overall sound and dynamics were quite remarkable for a choir that first met on Monday and had had only three rehearsals.

We opened with Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach, a piece that Jane simply thought was the choir warming up (in the same way that an orchestra tunes at the beginning of a gig)! I was the only bass 2 in choir E and had the priviledge of belting out a bottom … er, note on my own as the piece ended. What is it about Scandanavian composers that make them think that they have to mess with the rules? This was truly a build-your-own Ikea composition. Great fun, but I was still a little lacking in confidence.

Next up Stabat Mater by Krzysztof Penderecki. Having previously sang Veni Creator with NYCGB I have a fondness for Penderecki. By this evening I was beginning to see how the score worked and it was looking less and less like a game of Su doku where you had to work out what the Sops were doing, and then where the Altos came in in that choir before you had any hope of seeing where your own part’s entry came in! My secret weapons: a yellow highlighter pen, plenty of numbers drawn in bars, and thick black, demarcation lines. I loved the piece (how it resolves at the end is magical) and was growning in confidence by now.

Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, Op 9 is one of my favourite pieces of music; my second favourite requiem after Mozart’s. I first heard the orchestral version on a cassette owned by (exNYCer) Jonny Coore in 1996. But I’ve never had the opportunity to sing it. Until tonight. My brother-in-law-to-be Martin said that this was the loudest choir he’s ever heard. (Note to NYCers: blimey! and that’s a choir without Lard and Duncan Gorwood!) I had my confidence, and I wasn’t scared to use it. I belted out the fff passages. And the ff passages. And, as it happens, anything marked f and mf as well.

By the Kyrie my back was killing me. I’ve had trouble with my back for the last couple of weeks, and as the girls began to sing the Kyrie it felt as though someone was slipping a knife between the vertabrae of my lower back. “Lord have mercy,” I began to pray. As the concert went on I was trying to relax and not tense up, subtly fidgeting and twisting my back to ease it up a little. Walking back to the Chapter House after the show was an act of determination and effort. But I noticed that I wasn’t the only person having trouble walking.

The two soloists were great. Chris, a chap I’d sat next to in my first rehearsal, was so nervous before we began. But he had no reason to be. He sang the baritone solo with great confidence, and a depth and tone that belied his slight figure. The soprano solo (sang by a beautiful blonde, Irish girl whose name I didn’t catch) was also sang beautifully, accompanied by a mournful cello, also played beautifully. (His music was propped on another chair; seemingly his music stand went walkabout.)

A great experience with a great sounding choir. We finished the night in The Teucher bar on William Street, where I met up with friend Jamieson Sutherland and another friend of Jonny Coore.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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