Tag Archives: James MacMillan

Ayr Choral Union: Masterworks

The vaccine roll-out in the UK may be the most important work the National Health Service is doing at the moment, but regular encounters with Ayr Choral Union should also be available on prescription.

Following the same model as the online Messiah last October, but with the bonus of choir director Andrew McTaggart joining the same quartet of soloists – soprano Catriona Hewitson, mezzo Penelope Cousland, tenor Ted Black and baritone Colin Murray – this was a greatest hits package from the Ayr chorus, hosted on Zoom. It is not a platform suited to audio collaboration, so hearing the choir sing together is not an option, but McTaggart and the 150 others who joined him do not allow that to stand in their way. The community of singers were all muted, but they could be seen lustily joining in with the young professionals on a programme that began with Handel’s Coronation Anthem Zadok the Priest, and included selections from Bach’s St John Passion, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the Requiems of Brahms, Mozart and Faure, and contemporary work by Ola Gjeilo, Morten Lauridsen and the choir’s patron Sir James MacMillan.

Sir James had actually been part of the coaching sessions, guiding the choir through the Lux Aeterna from his Strathclyde Motets at one of their online meetings prior to this concert. Others were sectionals, with the soloists joining McTaggart to work on the repertoire. When they are permitted to sing together again, Ayr Choral Union will be nearer match-fit than many choirs.

The accompaniment for this concert was a string quartet (Katrina Lee, Kirstin Drew, Aaron McGregor and Alice Allen) filmed in Glasgow Cathedral with Andrew Forbes on keyboards. He was also responsible for editing the contributions of the singers and players together in what was a very slick split-screen operation. There was some lovely ensemble work from the quartet – notably on the Mozart Lacrymosa and Gjeilo’s Northern Lights – and McTaggart sometimes popped up in duplicate, conducting and singing, including a fine solo Libera Me from the Faure Requiem.

Not only has Ayr Choral continued to work through the pandemic, it has also been raising money for charity, regardless of the lack of ticket money for the coffers. In her upbeat introduction to the concert, choir president Kate Wilson may not have used the words “deficit be damned” but the implication was there.

So if your choir needs a kick-start after Covid, get in touch and see if they’ll share their fine film for a few quid. Just say VoxCarnyx sent you.

Keith Bruce

How Lonely Sits the City

Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh

Newly-appointed Associate Director of Dunedin Consort Nicholas Mulroy and Head of Artistic Planning David Lee have been at great pains to stress that this thoughtful all-vocal programme, which is available to watch until December 19, was dreamed up before the pandemic changed all our lives.

It is not difficult to see why, because although this selection of work, ancient and modern, could hardly be more appropriate for our times, to have conceived it as such might invite accusations of miserabilism.

The early music pillars of the recital are the three-sections of Orlande de Lassus’s five-part setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and a two-part motet by William Byrd, also concerned with the allegorical Christian interpretation of the destruction of Jerusalem in the Old Testament. The 1945 work by Rudolf Mauersberger that found the same textual inspiration, and which gives the concert its title, sits in the middle.

Alongside are two works from 2009, Cecilia McDowell’s I Know That My Redeemer Liveth and James MacMillan’s Miserere, and a brand new commission in Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade’s Vigil 1.

Intended to be heard live or not, this is the choir performing together for the first time since March, and the resonance of many of the words they were given to sing must have contributed to the commitment audible from all twelve singers, four of them young new recruits. Superbly recorded by Matthew Swan, with album-release quality balance between solo voices and ensemble in every configuration required across the concert, the Dunedin has never sounded better, and that is a high bar to reach. The blend of the men’s voices in particular on the closing Miserere was beautifully captured.

While the MacMillan is already a contemporary classic and the Byrd a favourite of professional choirs, other memorable moments came in the shorter modern pieces. Although designed to sit alongside Brahms and echo Handel, there are resemblances to the popular contemporary choir staples of Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen in the Edinburgh-educated McDowell’s setting of the Messiah-familiar words from the book of Job. In the Mauersberger, composed after the destruction of the chorus-master’s home city of Dresden, the technical attention to detail is particularly noticeable, both in the vocal balance and in the careful selection of camera shots to match the music. The Consort’s video partners, Arms & Legs, do another fine job here.

The Cruttwell-Reade commission will surely quickly find a place in the repertoire. Both intricate and accessible, it too looks back to earlier forms (Lutheran chorales) and has the superb device of using both the original German text of the Rilke poem and an English translation, with the ensemble split into three SATB choirs. The singers’ clarity of diction here, and indeed throughout, was faultless.

The new concert is accompanied by a 20-minute conversation between Nicholas Mulroy and Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade on the Consort’s YouTube channel. It is an exemplary introduction to a new piece of music and well-worth any music-lover’s time.
dunedin-consort.org.uk
Keith Bruce

Image: Nicholas Mulroy and Dunedin Consort at Greyfriars Kirk