ORGANISTS:                                              CHORAL COMPOSERS:

Dr Roger B. Williams                                  Dr Roger B. Williams

Forbes Kinghorn                                         Martin Willems

Anthony White                                            Joe Stollery

Martin Willems                                           Diana Burrell

Matthew McVey

Sunday 21st November 2021

Sunday saw the last of four Autumn concerts in St Machar’s Cathedral presenting live music during the pandemic. It drew a large crowd to the Cathedral, all well behaved and following current restriction rules.

As Dr Williams wrote in his accompanying note: “Today’s programme of music for organ and choir gives an opportunity to sing some of the pieces specially written for the Cathedral Choir during Lockdown, during which time the Choir continued weekly rehearsals via Zoom.”

It was also an opportunity to present music and performances by some of the young musicians currently studying at Aberdeen University, although two of the composers, Dr Roger Williams and Diana Burrell are not quite so young. Diana Burrell was born in 1948 but that still makes her three years younger than me.

The concert opened with a piece for organ and choir composed some two years ago by Dr Williams. He both played the organ and directed the choir. ‘Behold! A Mighty Priest’ is based on a text for the Office of St Machar taken from the Aberdeen Breviary, Scotland’s first printed book’. This was an ideal piece to celebrate the Cathedral itself which has kindly hosted all four concerts.

 A shining golden trumpet stop on the organ introduced what was a joyful celebratory piece. Vigorous organ playing and rich euphoric singing from the full choir introduced us to what turned out to be a thoroughly buoyant afternoon of music.

It continued with the first of our young talented organists Forbes Kinghorn. He introduced and played the ‘Fugue in g minor K401’ by Mozart. He suggested that Mozart was in part poking fun at the old Bachian tradition of fugue writing. I am not sure about that, but here certainly was something quite new. Despite the correct development of the fugal motif there were threads of lightsome melody that shone through in Forbes Kinghorn’s performance and there was also a sense of classical style development that overlaid the music and brought the fugue to its most satisfying conclusion.

Our second composer, this time for choir but without organ, was Martin Willems. He gave us a quite despondent introduction as he informed us that because of Covid, he had been unable to see his parents for over two years. However ‘Clap your Hands all Ye People’ was a wonderfully upbeat composition. St Machar’s Choir certainly lifted our spirits with this piece. I remembered that we had been all asked to clap our hands for the workers in the NHS, so this was a fantastic honouring of that idea.

The ‘Toccata and Fugue in F Major’ by Dietrich Buxtehude was chosen by Anthony White for his solo organ performance. A suggestion of lively fanfare opened the Toccata which then developed a sturdy regal power in Anthony’s fine performance. The fugue was almost dance-like in its motif and  like so many of today’s works it was a real celebratory piece.

‘A Plea for Salvation’ by Joe Stollery was for choir and organ played by Roger Williams. The tiptoe organ playing on upper flutes reminded me just a little of the finale ‘In Paradisum’ from Fauré’s ‘Requiem’ while the choir, often in unison till harmonies blossomed at the end, made me think of the popular compositions of John Rutter. I don’t mean that Joe was copying Rutter but rather that his music has a similar instantly likeable quality.

Martin Willems as organist rather than composer had chosen the ornate dance-like music, lots of trills, busy hands and busy feet in the opening movement of J. S. Bach’s ‘Trio Sonata No.4 BWV 528’. He followed this with François Couperin’s ‘Kyrie’ from the ‘Messe pour les Paroisses’ strong playing of a short but powerful piece.

‘Bless the Lord, O my Soul’ by Diana Burrell displayed a touch of piquancy in her melodic writing most definitely modern but not at all unattractive. Roger Williams played the supportive organ while the melody was passed from the female to the male voices and back again. It was a piece which displayed fine transparent clarity in the voice parts which received a superbly well balanced performance from St Machar’s Choir. Fewer men than women, but well done boys, you came shining through.

The concert had opened with a wonderfully festive sounding piece for choir and organ. It needed something equally or more electrifying to bring the concert to a celebratory conclusion and that is exactly what we got from Matthew McVey. Johann Schneider is believed to have been one of J. S. Bach’s most gifted pupils. Not much of his music has survived to the present day but the ‘Prelude and Fugue in g minor’ was surely one of his very best. The prelude was wonderfully dramatic followed by a fast-moving helter-skelter ride of a fugue. Matthew McVey gave it a thunderous and thrilling performance with a rich roaring bass throughout which I absolutely loved.

This was the final Autumn concert of the season. What is to follow? Winter, Spring or next Summer? Do tell us Roger!