Aberdeen Sinfonietta

With Aberdeen Bach Choir

Eleanor Dennis Soprano

The Music Hall, Aberdeen

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Aberdeen Sinfonietta have appeared regularly with Aberdeen Bach Choir at their concerts in St Machar’s Cathedral. On Sunday Sinfonietta reciprocated by inviting the Bach Choir and conductor Peter Parfitt to be special guest performers at their 2014 Summer Concert. The programme, with music by Mozart, Delius, Fauré and John Rutter took the audience on a mind-expanding journey through a series of remarkably divergent musical styles.

The programme began with Mozart’s Serenata notturna, a kind of Concerto Grosso with a trio of soloists from the orchestra – two violins featuring Bryan Dargie as lead with Jean Fletcher as second and Sandra Campbell in a mostly supporting role on viola. This was a particularly classy performance both from the soloists and the accompanying orchestra. Bryan Dargie really had the starring role but in the trio section of the second movement Jean Fletcher’s playing sparkled and in the finale, attractive duetting between first and second violin was fantastic.

For the second work in the concert we stayed with Mozart moving to one of his most celebrated works, the Exultate Jubilate. It introduced the evening’s special guest soloist, soprano Eleanor Dennis. I was privileged over the years to hear Eleanor in her early days at Haddo House. She was good then but now she sounds absolutely amazing. She easily filled the Music Hall with her delicious creamy soprano tones. She soared effortlessly up to top notes that were firmly sustained and sounded wonderful. The Exultate Jubilate as the excellent programme note explained was originally written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini and such singers were noted for their ability to sing the most florid and highly embellished musical lines. Nowadays it is the territory of great sopranos like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa but with her easy and seemingly relaxed delivery of the ornamental passages Eleanor Dennis was up there with the best. Her delivery of the celebrated Alleluia was absolutely thrilling. The audience responded to her performance with an enthusiastic ovation.

Delius is about as far away from Mozart as I can imagine. Conductor Peter Parfitt and the orchestra managed to capture the melting harmonies and misty instrumental colours to perfection. In A Song before Sunrise sensuous strings and highly colourful wind playing conjured up a pastoral English landscape with real feeling. Ailsa Matheson’s clarinet really was the eponymous bird for On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. In The Walk to the Paradise Garden, Geoffrey Bridge on oboe and Fiona Gordon on cor anglais were worthy star performers.

Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine is every bit as attractive as the pieces by Delius and I must say a great deal more shapely. A reduced Bach Choir (the full chorus would never have fitted on stage along with the orchestra) gave a fine performance beginning with lovely warm smooth singing by the men followed by a lovely wash of harmony from the full chorus. The harp played by Sharron Griffiths completed Fauré’s sound world in this piece.

The lively rhythm and incisive orchestral and choral work in the opening section of John Rutter’s Magnificat took us even farther away from the dreamy atmospherics of Delius. This was really energising music. The second section, Of a Rose, stood out in startling contrast. Rutter’s alternating of female and male voices and then full chorus worked magically well. A similar idea was farther developed in the third section before Et Misericordia brought back our marvellous soprano soloist Eleanor Dennis. Her silver soaring vocal line supported by the choir was delicious but even better was to come in Esurientes where solo voice and choir were embellished by the sounds of harp, soft strings, oboe and clarinet to name only a few of the delights in this section.

Brass and timpani joined with the choir in the well named Gloria Patri before Eleanor sang the simple yet beautiful Marian Antiphon. The work ended with a return to the opening music but with a different text. Rutter’s music is certainly “easy listening” but it is also superbly crafted with imaginative use of instrumentation and well chosen use of different choral sections. I for one am glad that as a critic, I no longer have to pretend that I don’t like it. I think that most of the audience would agree that this was both an excellent as well as a thoroughly enjoyable concert.


Review contributed by Alan Cooper