Review of Cathedral at Noon concert 25th May 2024

Review of Cathedral at Noon concert 25th May 2024
Type of post: Choir news item
Sub-type: Latest News
Posted By: Gareth Brown
Status: Current
Date Posted: Mon, 17 Jun 2024
We are indebted to Alan Cooper for his very kind review :-)
Saturday 25th May 2024

 Conductor: Dr Roger B. Williams MBE
Folk-Song settings from Germany, Britain and France


Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951)
Drei Volkslieder Op 49:
1. Es gingen zwei Gespielen gut;
2. Der Mai tritt ein mit Freuden;
3. Mein Herz in steten Treuen.

Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934)
Two Folk Songs:
1. I Sowed the seeds of Love;
2. There was a tree.

Reynaldo Hahn (1875 – 1947)
Four Folk songs:
1. Vivons, Mignarde;
2. En vous disant adieu;
3. Pleurez avec moi;
4. Les Fourriers d'Été.


Saturday’s concert, part of the weekly series of events in the Cathedral Church of St Andrew in Aberdeen, was dedicated to the memory of Don French who passed away some two days ago. He has sung with Con Anima in the past. I was sorry and indeed surprised to hear that Don had passed because I saw him on Sunday 19th of May in the Stonehaven Town Hall. He was there, singing in the bass line of the Stonehaven Chorus, taking part in a splendid performance of Holst’s First Choral Symphony. Well, at least we can say that Don was still singing right up to the end, what a hero!
Saturday’s programme which Dr Roger Williams had chosen for Con Anima was challenging but made for marvellous listening. The three composers, Schoenberg, Holst and Hahn had taken the folk-songs of their countries, and in completely different ways, transformed them into the finest examples of highly developed classical writing.
The three songs by Schoenberg took the original melodies and coloured them magnificently using detailed contrapuntal writing. The songs were full of complex cross entries which the singers of Con Anima accomplished with perfection. The result was music that was harmonically colourful and deeply expressive as the English translations in the programme notes pointed up. The balance of the choral singing was excellent. I was delighted to hear that the basses and in particular the tenors, sometimes a weak factor in local choirs for numerical reasons, were easily able to match the fine singing of the sopranos and altos. Here, and elsewhere, Roger controlled the variations in dynamics from the various sections of the choir quite splendidly. In the second song, Der Mai tritt ein mit Freuden, Schoenberg brings up the altos and basses. Roger and Con Anima brought that out splendidly. This second song flowed forth so delightfully smoothly. In the final song the tenors and altos stood out as Schoenberg demanded, yet the overall choral balance was perfect. There were moments of real flourish in the singing which I found absolutely joyful. Schoenberg of course is remembered for a quite different type of music of which he himself was one of the major creators, but some of his earlier music, for instance The Gurrelieder, are at the very apex of romantic writing but the three folk-song arrangements we heard today show him as one of the finest composers of harmonic and contrapuntal detail.
Holst’s two songs demonstrate refinement and expressiveness in a completely different way. He contrasts unison and harmony in the opening verse of I sowed the seeds of Love. Then he uses the male and female voices separately. Once again Roger preserved the contrasting balance of the voices perfectly to give the whole performance a sense of unity. In the final verse, two of the altos had a lovely solo section. There was, where necessary, a softness in the singing that was delightful.
In the second of Holst’s songs, the altos have the first verse. In the second they are joined by the sopranos. The tenors took off magnificently at the opening of the third verse, followed by a blend of altos and sopranos. It was the basses that shone forth at the opening of the final verse. I felt that Holst, by separating out the different sections of the choir, was using it in an almost orchestral fashion. By the way, I must point up the excellent diction of the choir in these English songs.
Emotional expressiveness was the high point in the four songs by Reynaldo Hahn. The first song, Vivons Mignarde (Let’s live, my darling one) lets the original folk-song feeling of the music float to the top. There was marvellously smooth-floating singing from the sopranos to start with. In the centre of the verse there was a splendid crescendo before Roger made the tone soften once more. In the second song En vous disant adieu (Saying Goodbye to you) the sopranos gave us beautifully smooth-floating singing. There was a rich full choir crescendo then Roger brought back the softness of sound once more. That variety in dynamics (loud versus soft singing) was brought to a new level of refinement. The soft singing was unwavering and clear yet splendidly pianissimo when required.
The final song Les Fourriers d’Été (The Harbingers of Summer) opened with grand singing from tenors and basses then the female voices came in. There was lively dance-like rhythmic enthusiasm in this music a perfect conclusion to an excellent Saturday lunchtime performance:

Hiver, vous ne demeurez plus!
Les fourriers d’Été sont venus.
Words by Charles Duc d’Orleans (1394 -1465)

 Begone now, Winter, haste away.
Be off – you have no longer stay!
For Summer’s harbingers are here. 

Yes! And when I left to go to my car following a delicious strawberry tea at the Cathedral, the sun was blazing down on the streets of Aberdeen. Thank-you Con Anima, Roger, Reynaldo Hahn and Charles Duc d’Orleans, we need more of you to keep the Summer going after a long hard wet winter in Aberdeen!