Final concert in the current series of six.




Wednesday 26th August, 2020

Today’s online recital, the last in the current series of six, was recorded in St. Machar’s Cathedral with the generous support of the Friends of St. Machar’s. It was introduced by Dr Roger B. Williams, organist and Musical Director at the Cathedral. He discussed various helpful aspects of the programme with today’s performers, tenor David Walsh and pianist Dr Jeremy Coleman. The filming was done by Rachel Birse who appeared as a clarsach player and singer in the first of the six programmes. The superbly well balanced sound recording was done once again by Tom Williams.

David Walsh was born in Prince Rupert, a town in British Columbia, Canada. He was brought up in Ireland then came to study music at the University of Aberdeen from which he has recently graduated. His voice tutor at Aberdeen University was the celebrated operatic soprano Judith Howarth.

Dr Jeremy Coleman is an alumnus of Clare College, Cambridge. An expert musicologist, he has recently published a book entitled ‘Richard Wagner in Paris’. He is currently on the staff of Aberdeen University Music. He is probably more familiar to Aberdeen audiences as one of our several exceptionally talented piano accompanists.

Today’s programme consisted entirely of vocal music by Handel – three operatic arias and one from the oratorio ‘Samson’.

I was only intimately familiar with the piece from ‘Samson’, but it was great to be reminded of the three operatic arias, sung so magnificently by David Walsh. As with his programme choices in the Aberdeen City Lunchbreak Concerts, Roger Williams always managed to educate as much as to entertain us and that was certainly true of today’s programme.

In singing operatic arias by Handel, a singer needs strength and carrying power in addition to expressiveness, and with ornamental passages, elegance and fluency. David Walsh had all of these requirements in abundance. Later in the programme, Roger discussed with Jeremy Coleman the question of using the piano to accompany these arias, in particular a modern concert grand. Should they not have used a harpsichord? Yes, perhaps, but as Jeremy explained, these arias would originally have had full orchestral accompaniments and the harpsichord alone would have made the performances somewhat monochromatic (black and white). Jeremy’s playing restored much of the full colour original impact of the arias. His variety of touch, tempo, dynamics and detail of phrasing matched the same in David’s singing.

The first piece was the aria ‘Forte e lieto’ from Handel’s opera ‘Tamerlano’. The piano playing matched the lightness and elegance of David’s vocal delivery. There was great expressiveness and the vocal ornamentation was natural, easy flowing and nicely shaped.

In ‘Un momento di contento’ from the opera ‘Alcina’ the music was smooth flowing and luminous. Variations in tempo from both voice and piano were powerfully expressive.

The introductory recitative from the opera ‘Rodalinda’ was extensive but not at all lacking in colour both melodic and rhythmic. It led into the rather beautiful aria ‘Pastorello d’un povero armento’ the subject of which, though not the background story, reminded me of Herod’s aria from ‘L’enfance du Christ’ by Berlioz. This was a piece in which the colours of the piano really shone through.

It was fascinating to hear the aria from the oratorio ‘Samson’ following on from the Italian opera pieces. Handel’s compositional style had changed considerably to please English audiences. He really knew what he was doing. In the aria, ‘Thus when the sun from’s wat’ry bed’ expressing Samson’s reaction to his blindness has simpler yet stronger melodic power and there are fewer ornamental excursions. Those which are there are used not so much as decoration but to intensify the expressiveness of the text. David told Roger that his intention in this programme was to highlight the emotional power of Handel’s music. I think he did that so well throughout but in this final aria the emotional power of the music really blossomed forth from both voice and piano – or could that be more because I could understand all the language in this piece?

The six concerts have all been first class. If you have missed any of them, or if you would just like to hear them again, you can google ‘YouTube Music at One with Friends of St. Machar’s Cathedral’. Click on whichever of the concerts you would like to hear. Let’s hope that the medical profession can find a vaccine soon so that we can go back to live music again.