Songs and Choral Music

Ella Fontaine (mezzo), Lauren Hibberd (piano) and the Aurora Choir

Saturday 8 March 2014 • 7.30pm
Stewart's Hall, Huntly (map)

Review by Alan Rogers

Another varied promotion by Music Centeral with songs for mezzo-soprano and piano bookended by Huntly's Aurora Choir, who opened the evening with a Ronald Center arrangement of There is no Rose, and ended with Agnus Dei from his cantata Dona Nobis Pacem. Aurora are most at home with the tuneful end of modern music and were excellent in this repertoire, notably Morricone and Ferrau's Nella Fantasia and Goodall's The Lord is my Shepherd. Hearing these I thought how well they'd sing Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen, only to find from the excellent programme notes that they had already done so.

The middle part of the concert by Ella and Lauren began and ended with Ronald Center; Four Songs in Praise of Spring and The Angel and the Child were delightfully direct and almost folksy, suiting Ella's voice very well. She also demonstrated bel canto (Donizetti), pathos in Dido's Lament and humour/drama in Cherubino's aria from Marriage of Figaro and Dorabella's big aria from Act 1 of Cosi fan tutti. Lauren played the part of a full orchestra admirably throughout, but really had a chance to shine in David Ward's Three Sonnets to Orpheus, settings of Rilke in German. A virtuoso piano part shares the stage with some dazzlingly expressionistic vocals, requiring stamina on the part of both performers. Challenging!

A gentle and tuneful set from the choir to finish with the very lovely Agnus Dei, where they were joined by Ella with Lauren taking piano honours. A special mention for Hannah McGinlay, Aurora's co-founder, for soloing in Howard Goodall's version of the 23rd Psalm, and praise for co-founder and director Hugh Johnstone for coaxing beautiful sounds from his singers. I'll end by thanking David Ward for excellent programme notes, texts and translations, which have made my job considerably easier, and without whom the Center centenary concerts would not have happened.

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