Carolling – a Winter Concert by The Muscat Singers & Muscat Brass

Muscat Singers and Muscat Brass go from strength to strength each time they team up to celebrate the Festive Season in song and sound. Saturday evening’s performance at the Bosch Centre for Performing Arts at The American International School Muscat was no exception to the rule, and audience members left the auditorium after the two-hour show wanting more from ‘the best concert ever’.

The Muscat Singers comprises some of the best amateur singers in town, drawn together under the capable baton of young American conductor, Andrew Elbin and has been going for over 40 years. Muscat Brass was formed eight years ago so that professional brass teachers working in Oman had an opportunity to share music making themselves and play at the highest level in what is now a 20-piece ensemble. The result of their combined talents, under their long-standing Director and band arranger, Darrol Barry, is outstanding performances which raise the rafters and blow people away. “Carolling — a Winter Concert” brought out the best from both forces in a programme which showed huge contrasts in mood and emotion, volume and depth.
Unusually in a choral concert, the performance began in front of closed curtains with the solo voice of soprano, Leah Winkel, singing in the American folk-style of “Carol of the Stranger” by Abbie Betinis backed by a small chorus, and the curtains opened to reveal the full 66-strong choir as they joined in the second verse. It was an earthy, unaffected beginning to what was a varied menu with much fluidity of movement.

The women melted back to leave the men front of stage to perform an Eastern European style Carol from Georgia, “Alilo” — an unapologetic, open throated call which relaxed the mood and met with hearty applause. Finally the choir assumed a more orthodox format on the bleachers and were joined by Scottish harpist Murdo Macrae in a moving performance of 3 movements from Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”, introduced by the conductor. The first gave a hearty ‘Wolcum Yole!’ to the assembled crowd, the second was a sensitive, lyrical piece in German and Latin ‘Es ist kein Ros’ which accelerated with huge energy and ferocity into ‘This Little Babe’ at break-neck speed, bringing the set to an abrupt conclusion.
Moving forward to the floor, the company sang by heart the Trinidadian Carol, ‘The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy’ with gusto and swaying, to the rhythmic accompaniment of Dylan Dwyer on percussion. In similarly popular vein was John William’s lush and warmly performed, “Somewhere in My Memory” from the 1990 movie ‘Home Alone’ — a nice twist for the winter holiday. The first half concluded with the ladies singing Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Mid Winter” set by Michael John Trotta, accompanied beautifully by Kirsten Sweigart with a haunting flute counter-melody, the ensemble brought listeners near to tears as they took a short break.
If the first part of the concert was short, balanced and poignant, the second part was huge, titanic even, with broad brush strokes of colour and tone, as Muscat Brass took to the stage in full force, inaugurated by kit drum and percussion sections. John Williams’ “Summon the Heroes” was stirring and explosive while Darrol Barry’s own “Blues” was everything that word conjures up, and then some, and his brass interpretation of “Joy to the World” taught Handel a thing or too about jazz chords and rhythms. Prokofiev’s “Troika” was given a rousing treatment by Mr Barry for the full ensemble, and David Archer gave a mean Flugel Horn solo in Tim Rice’s “A Winter Tale” finale.
The Singers returned and combined forces with Brass sextet in Glen Rudolph’s “The Dream Isaiah Saw”. It began with House Accompanist, Mr Stephen Delves on ‘organ’ effect behind the evocative baritone solos of Huw Phillips and Leon Velzen, and gradually the sound grew to a huge climax of singers, brass, organ and percussion in a memorable moment of sheer brilliance.
The programme ended with a traditional-style drinking song, sung in canon by a small ensemble of unaccompanied voices at the front of the stage, “Come in! Come in!” by Abbie Betinis again, before the traditional communal singing part brought proceedings to a close.
But audience insistence on an encore allowed for a time-honoured tradition to prevail; Leroy Anderson’s “ Sleigh ride”, arranged by Maestro Darrol Barry and played by Muscat Brass, sent revellers out into an almost wintry night, whistling and singing, and wondering, ‘What will they come up with next?’

Georgina Benison