A reverie performance of many moods

Saturday’s matinée programme by Muscat Singers and Muscat Brass, “Reverie”, was a concert of two halves. The magnificent Bosch Centre for Performing Arts in Ghala hosted a vocal performance with guests in part one, while Muscat Brass provided a sterling and robust second half of purely instrumental sounds. Muscat Singers is an amateur community choir, welcoming all singers, without an audition, to join. Muscat Brass on the other hand comprises twenty professional players living and teaching in the Sultanate, and combined, they form a force to be reckoned with. The result was an evening of top quality music-making with something for everyone.
The performance began unusually and evocatively, with the choir in the auditorium in semi-darkness, singing and processing to Balbulus’ quasi-Gregorian chant, ‘Media Vita’. Reforming in a square down the aisles, an unfamiliar style of early American ‘Shape Note’ or Sacred Harp singing in ‘Idumea’ made the audience sit up; this was to be no ordinary concert.
As the forty-strong members of the choir filed off, a smaller, select ensemble of sixteen singers took centre-stage to perform acapella. The sound of their three songs was confident and mostly exquisite. The opening, John Wilbye’s Sixteenth-Century English madrigal, ‘Adieu Sweet Amaryllis’, was perfectly delightful and indeed put listeners in a reverie. Followed by the lively Spanish, ‘Adiós Riós’, a theme of farewell was emerging. Rollo Dilworth’s, ‘The Soul of a Butterfly’ was just beautiful, with its lilting rhythm and lush harmonies.
Next up were the young Guest Stars of the show, TAISM’s “Singing Eagles Choir”. Under their director, Andrew Elbin, they performed an amusing arrangement of Lewis Carroll’s nostalgic nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky”. The Acadian French Folksong, ‘La Violette’ was delightful for its youth and innocence, and as it concluded the adults, dressed all in black, reassembled behind the youngsters.
The combined choirs’ performance of Eriks Ešenvalds’, ‘Only in Sleep’ was touching, juxtaposing the childish quality of the elementary voices with the maturity of those behind. Suddenly in Ghana, ‘Two Bobobo Songs’ involved dancing and clapping, two-part singing and white hankies, in a rousing African chant featuring four guest drummers.
Back in their comfort zone, Muscat Singers continued with Arthur Sullivan’s iconic choral classic, ‘The Long Day Closes’ with the romantic harmony delivered by the choir at its most poignant. It was Andrew Elbin’s last concert as Music Director of the Singers, and so far he had done great credit to his three years’ work and the capabilities of all those involved.
‘To the First of My Lovers’ was an original folksong composition by Londoner, Sydney Carter, and here it was accompanied rhythmically by Muscat Singers’ house pianist, the talented Stephen Delves, while Rachel Elbin contributed a lovely Flute obligato. The verses of the song featured four soloists from the choir, while the main chorus performed a haunting backing role. Billy Joel’s ‘And So It Goes’ kept the momentum going, with the celestial sound of soprano, Krithika Barchem, opening and closing the ballad. Finally, the traditional, ‘Londonderry Air’ brought the first half to a sublime conclusion. It was The Muscat Singers at their finest, and to arresting applause, the Singers trouped off.
After a short interval, Muscat Brass took their seats on stage before their enthusiastic new Australian Conductor, Leif Sundstrup. Superlatives always abound when describing these ensembles’ performances. A substantial ‘Fanfare’ by Richard Strauss was arranged by trombone player, Ian Mitchell, for a rousing start in perfect unison. An arrangement of Harold Arlen’s, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ featured mellow trombone and solo horn lines, muted trumpet melodies and sparkling vibraphone tunes creating an almost wintry effect. Dave Archer performed the stunning flugel horn solo in, ‘The Closest Thing to Crazy’ arranged by Muscat’s own Darrol Barry, over warm accompanying chords.
‘The Mask of Zorro’ by James Horner was a fast cakewalk arranged by trombonist, Jim Gribben, featuring trumpet themes by Lasse Tronstad, and later, beautiful trombone melodies over lush, chromatic chords. Steven Verhelst’s, ’10 for Brass’ was actually Spanish, complete with castanets and brilliant trumpet solos over delicious discords from Dave Archer, Keith Price and Gary Ruston, building up to an exciting climax. Gribben’s arrangement of ‘The Avengers’ had powerful slide trombone lines, over Steve Rockey’s tuba bass. Richard Rogers’, ‘Slaughter on 10th Avenue’ moved to a Jazz, Big-Band language in Barry’s arrangement, with Chris Thomas driving on drums. It featured a beautiful trumpet solo from Lasse, effective wow-wow mutes and a menacing quote of ‘Three Blind Mice’ from the trombone section, finishing with a dynamic rhythmic crescendo.
The Finale, though not the end, was an unusual interpretation of ‘Somewhere’ from Westside Story, arranged by Darrol Barry. It was a performance to make Leonard Bernstein tingle. Understated melodies on muted horns followed by muted trumpets caught the atmosphere over subtle harmonic progressions. The mood developed, with Andrew Elbin and Chris Thomas on percussion, timps and gong, to a cymbal-crashing climax. Spontaneously Muscat Brass played Barry’s, ‘Ghubra Gallop’, (quoting William Tell!) sans conductor, in a really great ensemble performance to conclude Saturday’s wonderful double-bill.