MUSIC at ONE                                                                               




Wednesday 22nd July, 2020

Today, the 22nd July, marked the first of six weekly online concerts under the general title ‘Music at One, with Friends of St Machar’s Cathedral’. It was introduced and presented by Dr Roger B. Williams who is Organist and Choirmaster at the Cathedral. This week’s performers are members of a local very musical family, Amy and Rachel Birse.

Rachel is a regular soprano singer in the Choir at St. Machar’s. She is also a talented performer on the Clarsach. She was the first of the sisters to perform. Rachel opened with a piece for clarsach, ‘Sands of Hosta’ by the renowned harpist and composer, Ailie Robertson.

The piece reminded me of some of the Hebridean melodies collected by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser whose daughter rejoiced in the astonishing name of Patuffa Kennedy-Fraser and was also a renowned singer and harpist. Rachel gave us a lovely clear performance, making the melody sing out above her accompaniment notes. I would say it was lovingly played.

Rachel followed this with a nineteenth-century tune popular on the isles of Barra, South Uist, and Eriskay. The words of ‘The Christ Child’s Lullaby’, Tàladh Chriosda’ in Gaelic, were written by one Father Ranald Rankin a priest from Fort William around 1855, although the tune is much older. It was indeed Marjory Kennedy-Fraser who popularised the English version. Rachel did not sing the words but she certainly made her harp sing the tune most beautifully.

It was time for sister Amy to entertain us which she did most splendidly with the first three movements, Allemande, Courante and Sarabande of J. S. Bach’s Partita No.2 in d minor for solo violin. The first two movements in particular are based on dances popular at the time and Amy in her performance certainly took hold of the spirit of the dance and made it shine through. In the first movement her strong regular appeal to the rhythm was at the heart of her performance and the jaunty second movement was very much alive. The Sarabande being much slower had fine chording and a few little decorative twists that gave the music life.

Amy’s next piece was from a very different musical period. This was Fauré’s ‘Après Un Rêve’, originally a song but the melody is popular as a solo for many instruments in particular, violin and flute. Amy brought out all the appeal of the melody with clear upper tones and lovely mellow lower ones.

What was really needed to close this short concert was to bring the two sisters together and this they did with a piece composed by Ruby Rendall MacKay a singer and composer from Orkney who runs a music school in Inverurie. Rachel opened the piece with her clarsach and then Amy took up the melody and delivered it powerfully.

This was an excellent concert with which to begin the season. Next week the Celtic music theme will continue with one of its most accomplished performers Fiona Kennedy. Not to be missed!