A ‘Magnum of mysteries revealed’ at choral concert

ANGUS Choral Society presented their Christmas concert to an almost capacity audience in St John’s Church, Forfar, on Saturday.

The first half of their programme, much of which was sung a cappella, let us hear how well the choir was able to maintain pitch; not easy to do considering the variety of pieces and styles.

The opening piece Vittoria’s ‘Magnum Mysterium’ was beautifully effective, well shaped, balanced with subtle contrasts in volume and tonal expression. One could easily imagine being in a cathedral listening to a choir in the 16th century.

The choir’s second piece was J.S. Bach’s cantata ‘O Jesu Christ’. Although, surprisingly, sung in English, the choir again produced a well-balanced sound and sustained, well-controlled breathing.

Moving a couple of centuries, the ‘Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel’ by Poulenc gave the choir a major challenge - a very different ‘ball game’. Again sung a cappella, the harmonic accuracy was extremely well delivered. Each movement required a different atmosphere. This was achieved with confidence on the night, though I suspect there may well have been some doubts during rehearsals. The ‘Hodie’ brought the work to a bright, joyful conclusion.

To end the first half the audience was treated to the beauty of Morten Lauridsen’s ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ - the third ‘magnum’. This was, typically, full of harmonic digression and diversity but here again the choir excelled, providing much tonal variety and masterfully executed phrasing. This I think was a clear favourite of the singers.

The choir was afforded ‘breathers’ when Graeme Stevenson interspersed with three organ pieces: the chorale prelude ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ (Buxtehude) in gentle baroque style; Karl-Elert’s ‘Resonet in Laudibus’, a very atmospheric piece which reduced almost to inaudibility before the final few bars; and Goettsche’s ‘Hoert, der Engel helle Lieder’ - a fun piece based upon ‘Angels from the realms of glory’ in a light-hearted ‘jazzy’ vein. Full marks to Mr Stevenson for his valuable contribution to the occasion.

The second half of the programme was an assortment of choir and audience participation. Here again, the choir was able to demonstrate great talent. Intricate part-singing in ‘Infant Holy’ and ‘Ding Dong, merrily on high’, beautiful, shared spotlight between ladies and gentlemen in ‘A Maiden most gentle’, strength in ‘Personent Hodie’ and an extremely moving ‘Coventry Carol’.

Musical director Mary Veal should be acclaimed for her dedication to seeking perfection from the choir who clearly responded (with willing heart) toward achieving that goal in a very varied, challenging programme.

Mention must be made, too, of the new ‘uniform’ sported by the ladies, bright, all-the-same-white blouses complete with eye-catching ACS motifs. The concert not only sounded great but looked it, too.