CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF St MACHAR, OLD ABERDEEN
SECOND OF THREE SPRING CONCERTS 2023
Sunday 26th February 2023 at 4.15 pm
THE CHOIR OF St MACHAR’S CATHEDRAL
Dr Roger B. Williams, MBE Director
Matthew McVey Organist
Mike Rogers Hurdy Gurdy
Professor Paul Mealor (b. 1976)
‘The Firmament of his Power’
Dr. Sarah Rimkus (b. 1990)
‘The St Machar Songbook’
Professor Phillip Cooke
‘Christ Our Light’ Organ Solo
Sir James MacMillan
‘Praise ye the Lord’
In ‘The Firmament of his Power’ Molly Brown, Faith Ockwell, Sam Paul,
In ‘The St Machar Songbook William Brown, Olivia McKenzie, Emma Bell,
Christopher Brightly, Faith Ockwell,
Molly Brown, Euan Wilson
This, the second of three Spring Concerts in St Machar’s Cathedral, featured three specially commissioned works designed to celebrate the Quincentenary of Bishop Dunbar’s Heraldic Ceiling, one of the truly magnificent features of the Cathedral. The works by MacMillan and Mealor were commissioned in memory of the late Norman Marr -
The new work by Sarah Rimkus, ‘The St Machar Songbook’ was commissioned by an anonymous donor. The text for Sarah’s work sung in both Latin and English is particularly special because it comes from the Aberdeen Breviary, Scotland’s first printed book, compiled and written by Bishop Elphinstone, Bishop at St Machar’s Cathedral and Founder of the University of Aberdeen. Dr Williams in his introductory words informed us that Bishop Elphinstone was a great lover and supporter of music.
First, a few general words about the performance as a whole. I thoroughly enjoyed all four works we heard today. They all had unusual and sometimes astonishing features that made them unique. I had heard two of them at the previous concert, ‘A Service of Celebration for the Quincentenary of the Heraldic Ceiling’ on the 2nd October, 2022. These were the pieces by Professor Paul Mealor and Sir James MacMillan. The organ piece by Professor Phillip Cooke and the extensive setting by Dr Sarah Rimkus were new today.
The Cathedral Choir were in particularly fine voice. Although the female voices outnumbered the men, the overall sound was nevertheless well balanced. The women’s voices were well controlled and transparent enough to let the men shine through. The individual soloists were without exception excellent. They all had enough power to fill the Cathedral. Their diction was beautifully clear and the voices had a natural quality that fitted the ecclesiastical music and the surroundings to perfection. Just what was wanted. No operatic divas or anything like that.
Much of the organ music was either absent – Paul Mealor wrote for unaccompanied voices although there were the tinkles of antique cymbals, and in the work by Sarah Rimkus, the organ largely played drones when not taken over by Mike Rogers on his hurdy gurdy. Matthew McVey gave a fine performance of Phillip Cooke’s organ solo ‘Christ Our Light’ which had attractive melodic thrust and rich chording over which there were delicate raindrops of music.
Before ‘Praise ye the Lord’ by Sir James MacMillan, Roger Williams said the composer had asked him what he thought of the organ music for the piece. It was of course rich and glorious, matching and indeed boosting the joyful celebratory choral writing. There was also a magical contrasting conclusion where the organ rejoiced in lovely translucent flute sounds.
‘The Firmament of his Power’, an introit by Paul Mealor, had rich full choir singing often landing on Mealor’s deliciously warm harmonies. More transparent sections with the tinkle of antique cymbals were tellingly accomplished. The vocal solos were all excellent. I remember singling out the soprano and tenor at the last hearing. They were still excellent but so were the alto and baritone on Sunday. The words listing the instruments that praise the Lord, trumpet, psaltery, harp, timbrel, stringed instruments and organ were not actually there, but the voices brought them all alive.
I enjoyed all three choral works but am I allowed to say that for me on Sunday, it was the music of Sarah Rimkus that musically grabbed me by the lapels and made me feel excited. Her music was an amazingly successful marriage of early and modern music. The solos were like plainsong brought up to the modern world and made valid for the 21st century. I was impressed by the smooth flowing singing and the fascinating melismatic endings of lines. The choir singing was often amazing, sometimes producing a hubbub of choral singing. The word hubbub might seem a negative comment, but not at all. The to and fro of voices was absolutely wonderful. I could not think of a better description. It made the idea of praise seem as if it were coming from all the voices in the world. The organ drones gave the choir a steady backing to ride upon and the hurdy gurdy was wonderful – it brought forth the idea of early music to match the historical background of the text perfectly.
Phillip Cooke’s organ piece was a perfect taster letting us into Sir James MacMillan’s glorious organ writing buoying up the exultant choral writing. ‘I will praise the Lord with my whole heart’. MacMillan’s music certainly did that. His conclusion continued the idea of praise but made it seem warm and welcoming too.
This was a first rate performance from beginning to end. Will the third spring concert live up to this. I look forward to hearing it on Sunday 19th March.
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|The Heraldic Ceiling|
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|Bells of St Machar|
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|The History of the Choir|
|Events at Dunbar Hall|