In the 2019 Haddington Festival week concert-goers were treated to a real feast of Italian Baroque music in a concert given by the Garleton Singers, their accompanying orchestra and soloists. Stephen Doughty, Musical Director of the choir for some 25 years, greeted the audience in Italian, and his introductions skilfully set the scene for the programme of 17th century music from Venice.
The concert opened with Gabrieli's joyful 8-part Jubilate Deo, a rich and vibrant work, well-paced and confidently sung, and providing a rousing start.
A setting of the Stabat Mater by Caldara followed, bringing a change of mood. This was an adventurous and quite challenging work to choose – in the various sections it was very good to hear solo voices and small groups of singers contrasting with full choir sound, and further interest was found in colourful orchestration, including sonorous trombones. In this piece we heard distinctly woven melodic lines and, although the musical intricacy was occasionally hesitant, care was taken to ensure that the drama and pathos of the Stabat Mater poem was clearly conveyed.
How lovely next to hear Julian Appleyard, as soloist in the D minor oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, giving a polished, expressive and sweetly clear performance, with particular finesse in the slow central movement. He was very sensitively accompanied by the orchestra.
For the final work, Vivaldi's Gloria, the choir was joined by delightful soloists Eilidh Thomson, soprano, and Eve Doyle, mezzo soprano, who each brought something special in their solo movements, and whose voices blended so beautifully and effortlessly in the Laudamus Te. Oboe and trumpet gave extra colour to the orchestral texture, and perhaps the choir felt most comfortable in this work – there was great vitality and energy, especially in the outer movements, the exuberant and glorious resonance of the final chord testament to pleasure given and received.
The stage arrangement may have contributed to a little unease in pitch at times, singers in the back rows possibly feeling at a distance, and one could always wish for slightly larger tenor and bass sections to lend weight to the sound, but this choir is certainly well-rehearsed and vocal lines remained generally clear and cohesive. Praise and thanks are due to all singers, to the orchestral players, to accompanist Caroline Cradock - tonight playing the harpsichord - and to Stephen Doughty for his expert guidance of both choir and orchestra in the presentation of this grand Venetian event.
Handel’s Alexander’s Feast is not a work known to me, or any of the other members of the audience I spoke too last Saturday evening. But what a lively, inspiring and enjoyable evening it proved to be. So thank you to The Garleton Singers and their redoubtable Musical Director Stephen Doughty for introducing it to us.
The work is packed with good tunes, clever orchestration and bravura parts for three soloists. And here was the first surprise of the evening - due to the indisposition of the advertised tenor, the role was taken by Stuart Murray Mitchell with virtually no time to prepare. And what a splendid contribution with such clear diction he made.
Learning from the well written programme notes that the work was conceived as a St Cecilia Ode - concentrating on the ability of music to stir various emotions - thus the subtitle “The Power Of Music” provides the listener with a key to the work.
The choir were in fine and sonorous voice in the excellent acoustic of St Cuthbert’s. The thrilling sound of the sopranos entry in the chorus The list’ning crowd was matched by the tenors and basses on the next line A present deity. And the dynamic range of the choir throughout the evening was impressive. There were occasional problems of the tenors and basses staying in touch with the cracking pace set by the conductor in a couple of choruses, but this didn’t spoil the overall impact of the choir for me.
The stylish soprano soloist, Rebecca Murray, was very affecting and the bass Aaron O’Hare lost no opportunity to impress with the drama of his part, and his interplay with the splendid horns in his air Bacchus, even fair was most engaging. Other notably enjoyable orchestral contributions were pairs of bassoons and flutes, a solo trumpet & kettle drum as well as the beautifully duetting violins in the Concerto Grosso contribution at the commencement of part two.
Finely paced orchestral and chorus numbers never let this engaging work waver and the thrilling choruses closing each half left me wanting more. So thank you all for a great evening’s music making.
Christmas Starts with the Garleton Singers
The concert presented by the Garleton Singers and their director Stephen Doughty had it all: rousing carols, satirical poems, solo works for organ performed ably by their accompanist Caroline Cradock, and of course, polished performances of choral works old and new. The concert started with beautiful stillness: the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City, sung by soprano Katie Hamilton. Thus began a whistle stop tour of festivity, aptly weaved together through explanation and anecdote by the choir’s director. Although slightly caught off by pacing in Today the Virgin by Tavener, they quickly got into their stride. Christmas Day by Holst provided a distinct solo part to each of the different voice types, to which members of the choir rose admirably. The choir were at their most captivating in the slow movement of a lesser-known piece - Christmas Cantata (Sinfonia Sacra) by Daniel Pinkham. Warned prior that the relatively unknown music would “drive the audience from the church” the intricate chromatic suspensions instead drew them in, creating an ethereal atmosphere. But then we were off again, onwards towards The twelve days of Christmas before a joyous O Come all ye Faithful closed the concert. As chairman Peter Parish stated in his programme note, Christmas really did start tonight.