Wow! What a celebration of song to mark Arbroath Male Voice Choir’s 80th anniversary.
For two nights last week the Webster Memorial Theatre was filled to capacity for the eagerly awaited concert and the second appearance in Arbroath of international diva Dame Lesley Garrett and her acclaimed accompanist David Barnard.
Choir and soloist were in top form and the programme varied in content from operatic choruses, arias, songs from the shows and even an Elvis favourite.
The gentlemen were at ease and enjoying their programme although a little smile here and there would have been welcome.
Under the baton of their musical director Sheena Guthrie they rose to the special occasion and there was confidence and a superb sound nurtured throughout the evening by the admirable direction of Ms Guthrie. Particular attention was given to diction, diminuendos and crescendos.
From their opening number the gentlemen chose ‘Make my world a gift of song’ – a wonderful way to introduce the audience to the joys of music - to the last note of the rousing ‘Soldiers’ Chorus’ from Gounod’s ‘Faust’ we were treated to a varied programme of superb singing by the gentlemen who were splendidly accompanied by guest accompanist Alison Hart.
As Ms Garrett took to the stage there was no doubt, from the first note of the ‘Habanera’ from Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ that she was indeed a seductive Carmen. The aria, magnificently sung, had all the drama associated with the opera. She also included another aria from this opera but from the more modern production ‘Carmen Jones’ when she thrilled the audience with the gypsy song ‘Beat Out The Rhythm Of The Drums’. The haunting ‘Rusalka’s Song To The Moon’ where she asks the Moon to help her win the love of a prince although she is a water spirit, was sung with a simple and moving interpretation displaying to perfection Ms Garrett’s outstanding technical ability.
Also included in Ms Garrett’s programme were ‘Over The Rainbow’, ‘The Sun Whose Rays’ from ‘The Mikado’, ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ from ‘My Fair Lady’, a superb rendition of Schubert’s ‘Serenade’, ‘Wonderful World’, Elvis favourite ‘The Wonder Of You’ and two songs from her latest CD ‘A North Country Lass’ - ‘All Round My Hat’ and the poignant ‘Bold Grenadier’ proved just how popular an artist Ms Garrett is. Her poise, characteristic interpretation and lovely smile all added to a highly professional performance which we in Arbroath were very privileged to have heard. Throughout she was accompanied impeccably by David Barnard, a much sought after accompanist for many highly profiled singers. His rapport with Ms Garrett was just magic.
Arbroath Male Voice Choir was founded in 1934, and, with the exception of five years during the Second World War, they have presented an annual concert featuring some of the best-known singers in the United Kingdom.
The choir has had many family connections throughout the years including Charlie and Willie Smith (Willie’s name was missing from the programme picture of the first concert) Bob and Dave Ferguson, The Wyllie brothers Ralph, Dave and Frank and Bill Cant, his sons Douglas and George, Ed Cant and George Cant and his son Ronnie.
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The choir has had only six conductors throughout their 80 years and they were Roy Sheriff, Andrew Morrison, Johnston Ralston, Sydney Pearson, Helen Addison and their present musical director Sheena Guthrie. The purpose of the choir was to promote male voice singing in Arbroath and this indeed has been nurtured over the years to produce the choir we have today. We all hope that male voice singing continues in our historic town for many years to come.
The gentlemen’s programme celebrating 80 years of music making was varied and featured an excellent rendition of ‘Gloria’ from Mozart’s Twelfth Mass.
Here the tricky passages were very well executed and there was some very good sustained singing from the choir who were well supported by Mrs Hart’s accompaniment.
Frank’s ‘Panis Angelicus’, always a favourite, and John Rutter’s very appealing composition ‘I will sing with the Spirit’ were sensitively sung by the gentlemen. Songs from films and shows included ‘Bewitched, bothered and bewildered’ from ’Pal Joey’; Jeepers Creepers’ from ‘Going Places’; ‘Old Devil Moon’ from ‘Finian’s Rainbow’; ‘Moon River’ from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’; and the jaunty ‘It’s love that makes the world go around’ from Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’. In all the men were diverse in their interpretation of each number and again responded well to Ms Guthrie’s direction.
Three favourites of all male voice choirs, Verdi’s ‘Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’ from ‘Nabucco’, ‘Serenade’ from Bizet’s ‘The Fair Maid of Perth’ and ‘The Soldiers’ Chorus’ from Gounod’s ‘Faust’ brought out some of the best singing by the gentlemen. The little accents in Verdi’s acclaimed chorus, lovely lyrical singing in the Serenade; and the climaxes in the Faust were exemplary and a credit to the musical director, accompanist and singers.
In addition the choir and Ms Garrett performed three items to a very high standard with little rehearsal. The first #Waltz of my heart’ from Novello’s ‘The dancing years’ was charming and obviously enjoyed by all. Maschwitz’s ‘Summer Song’ from the musical based on the life of Dvorak, was charismatic, and the finale ‘Climb every mountain’ from ‘Sound of Music’ outstanding bringing to a close a superb evening of song.
Provost Helen Oswald introduced the first concert on Thursday night and said it was a privilege to have Ms Garrett and Mr Barnard return to Arbroath. Ms Garrett said she had been delighted to return to Arbroath and just loved the town and the hospitality she had received. She also commended the music making in our community which she quoted as being ‘highly professional’. Well-deserved praise for Ms Guthrie and her ‘boys’!
Choir members this season are: Willie Arbuckle, Jan Birse, Rodger Brunton, Graeme Cant, Douglas Cant, Steve Cargill, Brian Cummings, Campbell Dinning, Alan Esselmont, Jay Ferrier, Flint McCulloch, Gordon Law, Ross Henderson, Colin Hunter, Duncan Hunter, Ian Fleming, Richard Irvine, Charles Jarvis, Jonathon Milne, Brian Kelly, Dickie Lawes, Willie Lawrie, Ken Lownie, Des Mardle, Danny Martin, Graeme May, Mike Mechen, Des Nicoll, Jim Penman, Ron Raffan, Bill Reid, Kenny Southorn, Bruce Simpson, Alan Smith, Syd Smith, Darren Stewart, Ian Stewart, Tom Swan, Ron Watson, Dave Whitton, Alan Whyte, Campbell Wilbourn, David Wilson, George Wishart and Murray Wood.