A PACKED Webster Memorial Theatre awaited with anticipation of curtain up for Arbroath Male Voice Choir’s 77th annual concert on Friday evening.
No one could have been disappointed with the outcome as time after time loud applause soared through the theatre, not only for the choir’s guests - internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Cheryl Forbes, and one of Scotland’s most multi-talented entertainers Gordon Cree, baritone, who won the hearts of their listeners - but also for the choir under their new musical director Sheena Guthrie and their accompanist Barbara Potter.
The gentlemen rose to the occasion with a new confidence and a superb sound nurtured throughout the evening by the admirable direction of Ms Guthrie. From their first note in ‘Gonna rise up singin’ to the last note of the Sea Shanties we were treated to a varied programme of wonderful singing by the gentlemen who were splendidly accompanied by Mrs Potter.
Cheryl Forbes is well-known for her mezzo soprano dramatic roles and her opening aria at Friday’s concert was the ‘Seguidilla’ from Bizet’s Carmen. As she walked on stage there was no doubt she was indeed a seductive Carmen and the aria, magnificently sung, had all the drama associated with the opera.
‘Ombra mai fu’ probably one of Handel’s most famous arias, was superbly sung and was followed by Frank Bridge’s ‘Love went a-riding’ which was sung with all the imagination as Pegasus takes flight and her final note just soared through the theatre. Two old American songs by Aaron Copeland ‘Simple Gifts ‘ and ‘At the River’ were sung with a simple and moving interpretation displaying to perfection Miss Forbes outstanding technical ability.
In her second spot Cheryl chose ‘With a song in my heart’ from the Rogers & Hart musical ‘Spring is here’ extremely appropriate as the weather in Arbroath was most certainly favourable. ‘Too late now’ from the Hollywood film ‘The Royal Wedding’ was followed by outstanding renditions of ‘Can’t help lovin’ that man of mine’ from Kern’s famous ‘Show Boat’; ‘Loch Maree’ and Stephen Foster’s ‘I dream of Jeannie’. Cheryl’s poise, sensitive interpretation and lovely smile all added to a highly professional performance which we in Arbroath were very privileged to have heard.
Gordon proved, too, just why he is a much sought after entertainer. After announcing that it was lovely to be back at the Webster Theatre he gave a brief explanation of the aria ‘Bella siccome un angelo’ from Donizetti’s comic opera Don Pasquale where his character Dr Malatesta pretends that his beautiful timid naïve sister should be Don Pasquale’s bride.
However he has no sister and makes a deal with a wealthy widow to dupe Pasquale’s into marriage. Gordon was completely in character and gave a very clever execution of the aria. We then heard very fine baritone singing in Roger Quilter’s ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’ and “Mary of Argyll” which he dedicated to all the Mary’s in the audience.
He then turned to Scotland’s great entertainer Harry Lauder and along with an audience in good voice the theatre rang out with such favourites as ‘Roamin’ in the gloamin’; ‘Stop your tickling Jock’, Wee doch ‘n doris’; ‘I love a lassie’; and ‘Keep right on to the end of the road’ – ‘Well sung everybody’ said Gordon .
In his second spot Gordon arrived on stage playing with aplomb the ‘Post Horn Gallop’ much to the delight of the capacity audience. He then opened his violin case and proceeded to play the musical saw! An old favourite, Debussy’s ‘My reverie’, sung originally by Nelson Eddy the famous American singer, was delivered by Gordon with the same panache as that afforded by Eddy all those years ago. Gordon also sang ‘If ever I would leave you’ from Camelot and a lovely arrangement of the Irish ballad ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen’ each to rapturous applause considerably augmented by the attendance at the concert of some old Guides who are members of his fan club.
We hope Cheryl and Gordon, who were accompanied by the highly talented Alan Kitchen, director of music at Wellington Church, Glasgow, will return to Arbroath in the future. Their contribution to the concert was fabulous..
The gentlemen opened their programme with Handel’s ‘Where’re you walk’ in which there were some very fine crescendos and diminuendos and lovely sustained phrases. The quality of tone and interpretation continued in ‘The Rose’, from the film of the same name about the ill-fated rock singer Janis Joplin who succumbed to the pressures of performing by indulging in drugs and alcohol; and in a Handel favourite ‘Silent Worship’.
Then we were off to the barber shop where the ‘boys’ had a touch of blues before being livened up with the thought of a “Beautiful Doll’, ‘Hello, my honey’ and ‘There is nothing like a dame’ from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific which featured Ian Fleming and Jay Ferrier as soloists. To close the first part of their concert the choir chose ‘Scotland, my song forever’ penned by Gordon Cree and arranged for the choir by him a few years ago. With Gordon at piano the full sound from the gentlemen in this stirring piece resounded through the theatre as did the well-deserved ovation which followed.
They started the second part of their programme with an arrangement of Cherubini’s “Come, all who thirst” which had an effective opening where, in perfect harmony, they sang ‘ooo’ for the first verse. Caccini’s ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘You raise me up’ music by Rolf Lovland and words by Brendan Graham, followed. ‘You raise me up,’ one of the most inspirational songs ever written, has been recorded by many artistes and performed throughout the world. The choir splendidly captured all the tricky rhythms and the performance was quite moving and can take its place alongside many of the professional performances. Mention must be made of the back stage cathedral window lighting which lent much to atmosphere in this part of the programme.
Everyone loves songs of the sea and sea shanties and we were not to be disappointed with the choir’s choice. ‘The Eddystone Light’ – a fictitious story of a lighthouse keeper and a mermaid – became, The ‘ Bell Rock Light’ for the evening. Kenny Southorn was the eminent soloist and, with the choir in full voice as they sang ‘Yo ho ho, the wind blows free, Oh for the life on the rolling sea!’, he expertly captured the story of his mermaid mother’s life that is until she told the keeper to go to ‘hell’ and someone shouted ‘Put the light out’ - and then all was dark!
‘Sky Boat Song’ was well sung and the mood of the piece captured effectively before the choir moved on to give rousing performances of the shanties ‘A-roving’; Shenandoah’; ‘Drunken Sailor’ ; ‘Rio Grande’; ‘Haul away’; and ‘Fire down below’. Choir soloists were Duncan Hunter, Douglas Cant and one of the youngest members, Jonathon Milne, who earlier in the programme gave an expressive performance of the poignant Scottish song by Robert Burns ‘Bonnie wee thing’.
A comprehensive vote of thanks highlighting the contribution made to the programme by their guests, Ms Guthrie, Mrs Potter and Ian Cargill and team, front-of-house, was proposed by Mr Cant. Gifts, were presented to Mr Cree and Mr Kitchen while Miss Forbes, Ms Guthrie and Mrs Potter received a bouquet. Mr Cant also thanked the ladies of Knox’s Church flower club for the display of daffodils at front of stage; the help received from staff at the Webster Theatre including the impressive back wall lighting; and all others who, in any way, had helped stage such a successful evening of song.
Recalling the words of English composer Malcolm Arnold – ‘Music is the social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is’ (Source: ‘Grove’s’) - once again we left the theatre knowing this concert had been an evening of wonderful music, communication and friendship which will be remembered as another of the highlights in the next phase of Arbroath Male Voice Choir’s history.
Choir members this season are: president, Douglas Cant; vice-president, Richard Irvine; secretary, Jay Ferrier; treasurer, Charlie Munro; librarian, Jan Birse; committee members, Duncan Hunter and Campbell Wilbourn.
Choir members - Mike Mechen, Brian Kelly, Colin Hunter, Ken Lownie, Iain Whyte, Ian Fleming, Ron Watson, Bill Reid, Geoffrey Kellock, Willie Arbuckle, Murray Wood, Alex Spink, Bill Fenton, Bill Cadman, Charles Jarvis, George Wishart, Allan Esselmont, Des Mardle, Gordon Law, Dickie Lawes, Allan Whyte, Don Clark, David Whitton, Graeme Cant, Tom Swan, Alex Lees, Ross Henderson, Charlie Munro, Iain Stewart, Campbell Dinning, Jan Birse, Douglas Cant, Richard Irvine, Duncan Hunter, Jay Ferrier, Kenny Southorn, Brian Cummings, William Lawrie, Ally Lindsay, Jonathan Milne, Tim Mineard, Campbell Wilbourn and David Wilson.