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REVIEW: Inverness Choral Society return for the first time since November 2019 to perform live with their Spring Concert at the city's Ness Bank Church

By Margaret Chrystall


Inverness Choral Society: Spring Concert

Ness Bank Church

At almost the end of what had seemed an all-too-short selection of favourite choral pieces – a mix of sacred, operatic and miscellaneous on Saturday night at the Ness Bank Church – Inverness Choral Society conductor Gordon Tocher made a brilliant suggestion.

Inverness Choral Society at Ness Bank Church for their spring concert with conductor Gordon Tocher (right).
Inverness Choral Society at Ness Bank Church for their spring concert with conductor Gordon Tocher (right).

“Just before we sing our final number, thanks to all of you for coming out to support us this evening.

“It’s been lovely to see an audience again – it has been a joy to sing to you and I hope you have found something to enjoy. Don’t forget to put the clocks forward tonight and you might feel you have had a whole evening’s concert!”

The crowd laughed, though the society had made it clear that unlike programmes for former concerts, this evening would offer just over an hour of music with no interval, as the group had only been back in rehearsals together since September.

Perhaps you could hear in the audience’s response throughout the night, the enthusiasm of a group of music-lovers grateful for the chance to get out and hear such an uplifting selection, a chocolate box of musical treats – or Favourite Pieces From Opera To Operetta, as the programme had billed the return.

The spring concert programme.
The spring concert programme.

The long absence because of Covid restrictions meant that there was something very moving about both the reality of the voices and faces of the society in front of an audience and the presence of the fellow listeners ranged all around in the pews of the Ness Bank Church to hear them.

Gordon Tocher explained that Mendelssohn was 21 when he wrote the opening piece, Verleih uns Frieden, but that he had already written music “he never surpassed”, this piece setting text by Martin Luther.

The prayer for peace made an uplifting opening to the night’s programme, music that opened with the choir’s male voices, creating a short but consoling moment to reflect on the joys of returning to enjoy live performance.

There was no orchestra nor soloists for the society’s return, but the acoustics of the church allowed the piano accompaniment of ICS’s Sheila Bruce to ring out and set off the voices assembled again.

The recent centenary book about the society mentions that an audience survey in 1997 revealed that their audience preferred religious works, followed by opera choruses. And on that evidence, Saturday’s choices should have been spot on for crowd-pleasing.

Conductor Gordon Tocher.
Conductor Gordon Tocher.

The conductor’s interludes on the organ offered glimpses of Parisian composing talent, topping and tailing the section of the night which included operatic big hitters – first Verdi’s lively Anvil Chorus, the beautifully-controlled Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Wagner’s Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhauser and Gounod’s Soldiers’ Chorus from Faust. Then Gilbert & Sullivan sequence was presented with a lightness of touch from the choir, best represented by the exuberant skipping rhythm of The Gondoliers’ Dance A Cachucha.

But an equally strong performance came with the choir’s sequence from Handel’s Messiah, from the powerful interplay of sopranos, tenors, altos and bass voices, the staccato notes and challengingly fast runs in All We, Like Sheep shifting up another gear into the euphoria of the Hallelujah chorus, enthusiastically bringing a true climax to the night.

The centenary book.
The centenary book.

In the centenary book, Thomas Prag, the society’s president from 1989 to 1992, is quoted encouraging the singers to improve their performance for 1991-92 by “counting, watching, breathing, intonation, listening, phrasing, dynamics …”

Twenty years on – and actually 100 years and counting – the choir makes all that endeavour look, and sound, easy. MC

More info about the choir and their new book: invernesschoral.org.uk

You can also follow them on Facebook: @Inverness-Choral-Society

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