A CHANCE meeting in a corridor at Dundee’s Caird hall led to a dream coming true and two concerts which have been acknowledged as the best and most exciting ever at the Webster Memorial Theatre.
Arbroath Male Voice Choir’s immediate past president, Douglas Cant, was singing at The Proms two years ago when he met international singing star soprano Lesley Garrett CBE and asked her if she would like to sing with his local choir. Her answer was: “Just get in touch with my agent.”
Almost two years later Ms Garrett arrived in Arbroath not quite knowing what she had come to. Within a short time she felt really at home and was overwhelmed with the friendship and kindness received from everyone she met.
She commented “I have had the most wonderful time in Arbroath. Arbroath Male Voice Choir are wonderful and the music making in this community is so professional. I would certainly love to come back some time soon.” High praise indeed for the choir and their musical director Sheena Guthrie.
The first concert on Thursday was introduced by Provost Ruth Leslie Melville and the second on Friday by The Earl of Airlie David G.C.P. Ogilvy who said it was a privilege to have such a wonderful singer in Arbroath.
The gentlemen opened their programme with Cole Porter’s ‘Another openin’, another show’ in which they welcomed Ms Garrett to Arbroath the special words having been written by Sheena. The gentlemen sang their hearts out and showed they had no doubt that their guest soloist indeed ‘simply mystified them’! Under the baton of Sheena and guest accompanist Alison Hart the choir excelled and there were some wonderful tonal qualities throughout their programme.
The gentlemen joined Ms Garrett in ‘Some enchanted evening’; Verdi’s ‘La Vergine degli Angeli’ from ‘La Forza del destino’; and ‘You’ll never walk alone’ from Carousel. Ms Garrett also made a surprise entrance while the choir sang ‘Easter Parade’. The rapport between choir and soloist was amazing and the atmosphere in the theatre was exhilarating. The Verdi aria was very sensitively sung and the gentlemen were congratulated on their Italian and the very difficult rhythm by their guest. One could just imagine Leonora on her way to living her life as a recluse as she asks the angels to protect her.
Resplendent in a stunning purple gown, from the first note of ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Puccini’s opera ‘Gianni Schicchi’ to the final stirring performance, ‘You’ll never walk alone’ when Ms Garret was joined not only by the choir but by everyone in the packed theatre there was enjoyment and pleasure as her beautiful voice and bubbling personality captivated one and all.
Short interludes of her life and how she came to love opera and singing interspersed her splendid and varied programme which included Handel’s ‘Largo’; Zeller’s ‘Don’t be cross’ in which Ms Garrett was the perfect miller’s daughter as she taunted her suitor; Richard Rodgers classic ‘With a song in my heart’; Tchaikovsky’s melancholy ‘None but the lonely heart’; ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess; Gershwin’s ‘By Strauss’ which tells the story of a girl who loves only one composer and can do very well without Broadway. There was a change of gown for the second part and Ms Garrett chose a red and black dress with poppy design.
The Scottish song ‘O my love is like a red, red rose’ was sensitively sung and charmed the audience while ‘And this is my beloved’ from Kismet and ‘He was beautiful’ were full of passion. We were also treated to one of the best renditions the writer has ever heard of the fabulous “I dreamed a dream” from Les Miserables. It was simply fantastic. Our soldiers serving in Afghanistan were not forgotten and Ms Garret dedicated ‘The impossible dream’ to each and every one of them.
After taking at least two bows to thunderous applause Ms Garrett returned to sing ‘I could have danced all night’. David Barnard who broadcasts on radio and accompanies many eminent singers was the impeccable accompanist.
The Male Voice Choir members were in fine voice and presented a varied programme which consisted of songs from the shows, ballads, negro spirituals and folk songs. There was emotional singing in ‘The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray’ and the grief which came over in the words was outstanding. Teresa del Reigo’s wonderful ballad ‘Homing’ was another triumph and here we noted the gentlemen paid particular attention to their musical director when she asked for crescendos or diminuendos and once again the outcome was first-rate. Irving Berlin’s ‘Easter Parade’ featured Douglas Cant as soloist and Ms Garrett who waltzed on stage wearing a beautiful bonnet and started to conduct the singers as Ms Guthrie appeared to be ‘in the huff’. Indeed she was not and soon put her imposter off the podium. This was a great end to the first part of the programme.
The gentlemen also sang a stirring rendition of ’76 Trombones’, the tear jerking ’Autumn leaves’, a love song ‘Juanita’ and the Russian folk song ‘Tumbalalaika’. Negro spirituals have become part of the choir’s repertoire for many years and we were not disappointed with this year’s choice, ‘Ring the banjo’, ‘Cotton fields’; and ‘Old Time Religion’.
Barbara Potter, was the choir rehearsal accompanist. Choir members this season are: Richard Irvine, president; Ken Southern, vice-president; immediate past president Douglas Cant; secretary Jay Ferrier; treasurer Jan Birse; committee – Willie Arbuckle, Graeme Cant, Ross Henderson; music librarian Allan Whyte; and Syd Smith, Tim Mineart, Flint McCulloch, Bill Reid, Charles Jarvis, Ron Watson, Steve Collis, Charles Munro Alex Lees, Bill Fenton, Tom Swan, Alex Smith, Gordon Law, Sandy Yule, Ken Lownie, Don Clark, Duncan Hunter, Colin Hunter, Peter Hogarth, Mike Meechan, Des Mardle, George Wishart, Anthony Shellard; Campbell Dinning, Ian Stewart, Alex Spink, David Whitton, David Wilson, Dickie Lawes, Brian Kelly, Ian Fleming; Allan Esselmont; Brian Cumming, Ross Henderson, Jonathan Milne, Campbell Wilbourn and Murray Wood.