Aberdeen Sinfonietta with Stonehaven Chorus 21st May 2023 - Review



Sunday 21st May 2023

The Stonehaven Chorus with Aberdeen Sinfonietta, (Leader Bryan Dargie)

Ralph Jamieson, conductor

Susan McNaught, soprano

Matthew McKinney, tenor

Sarah Shorter, alto

Ross Cumming, bass

Supplementary Soloists from the Choir: Amanda Ferguson, soprano Fiona Armstrong, alto


In order to prepare myself for Stonehaven Chorus’s performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, first performed in Birmingham in August 26th 1846, I decided to go on the net to refresh my memory. I came across two University performances, one in Canada, the other in USA. I did not enjoy these at all. Both had large orchestras and absolutely huge choruses. As a result it was impossible to follow any of the words, and in some instances even the melodies were blurred, but they did make a lot of noise. ‘Oh dear’, I thought, ‘I’m not going to enjoy Sunday’s performance at all’.

How wrong I was! Conductor Ralph Jamieson had chosen a new version for chamber orchestra by Joachim Linkelmann and with a chorus of 44 voices rather than well over a hundred, the result was a performance that was wonderfully transparent. All the instruments came shining forth so cleanly, in great detail, and we had choruses where the words came through with remarkable clarity. A screen with the texts displayed as super-titles was a brilliant idea, only proving how very clear the singing of the choruses was.

So many details in the orchestra’s performance stood out, in the woodwinds, especially clarinet, oboe and glorious little touches from the flute. To accompany Elijah’s Air It is enough, wonderfully sonorous cellos. I must also mention how much I admired Isabel John’s on the spot timpani playing.

I have already said how clear the words of the choruses were. I loved the effortlessly soaring singing of the sopranos throughout the work. The tenors can sometimes be a weak section in Aberdeen choruses, often due to lack of numbers, but not on Sunday. With powerful entries, they were great. I was impressed by the choral balance throughout the performance. The chorus acted out their parts well too, fear, anger, despair and at the end of the work pure joy. They had a big, big sing on Sunday, but they never tired.

The soloists were well chosen too. As Elijah, Ross Cumming was prodigious. His opening piece, As God the Lord liveth strong above portentous orchestral playing set the seal on what was surely going to be a great performance and he has one of the, dare I say, ‘big hits’ of the work, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, this he sang movingly with both warmth and passion. The other ‘big hit’ is given to the alto Sarah Shorter, O rest in the Lord. Soprano Susan McNaught shone bright both for singing and acting as the Widow begging for the life of her son. I also loved the duet for two sopranos near the beginning of the work when Susan was joined by Amanda Ferguson.

I was not alone in my admiration of the tenor Matthew McKinney. He really sold us the lovely melody in See, now he sleepeth and then near the end with Then shall the righteous shine forth. What a lovely strong tenor voice. I think he would be good in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

Two quartets and one trio of Angels were splendid and the four soloists were marvellous in their satb Quartet near the end of the work. Most impressive of all was the final Chorus And then shall your light break forth especially when the four soloists stood up and topped off the joyous choral singing. It sent the audience out rejoicing into the streets of Stonehaven. Everyone just seemed so happy!