East Lothian enjoys the music of many choirs which all attain a remarkable standard and engage many local people in singing a wide variety of music. One of the more venerable of these is the Dunbar Choral founded in 1949. Their 70th Anniversary Concert in Dunbar Parish Church on Saturday 18th May showed just what can be achieved with commitment and enthusiasm.
With an orchestra of over 30 instrumentalists and joined by Dunbar Voices, a choir for young people formed in 2017 with an ethos of inclusive excellence and directed by Moira Morrison, the Choral offered a programme reflective of the ending of World War 1 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man written in 1942 to stir the soul and lift the heart provided a dramatic start from the initial drum beat with percussion and brass and set an excellent tone for the evening.
John Rutter’s Gloria is not without its challenges but written for accompaniment at different stages by brass, timpani, percussion and organ it provided a platform from which the voices of the singers could show that they were the vital component in this modern setting of part of the Latin Mass. The solo contributions of Colleen Nicoll, Katrine Townhill and Moira Morrison may have been limited in scope but were integral to a very competent rendition by singers and musicians which introduced to a number of people a side of Rutter, who in many minds is associated with Christmas carol settings, which they had not anticipated.
The concluding item was The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace – which has been heard many times in the past few years as being so appropriate to marking the end of the First World War – but rarely will an amateur group have produced so comprehensive and engaging a performance as did Dunbar Choral with the combined support of Soloists, Dunbar Voices and the very effective orchestra. Many of the audience will have heard versions of the Benedictus and the Sanctus on such as Classic FM but perhaps fewer had heard the complete work with its dramatic changes of mood and sometimes thunderous orchestral accompaniment. The moving and thought provoking qualities of the piece were all brought out with effect and considerable expertise. Every section of the choral maintained the involvement and clarity required and many in the audience were hugely impressed by the sustained contribution of the children of Dunbar Voices throughout a demanding and lengthy work. Again the voices of Colleen and Katrine along with the musicianship of the orchestra, who could not fail to be moved by the cello in the Benedictus, were significant in bringing the true impact of this moving work to fruition.
The concert marked in fitting style the conclusion of Vaughan Townhill’s eleven years as Director of Dunbar Choral and his son David’s contribution as accompanist. Vaughan has given the Choral wider musical horizons and been an empathetic, motivating and mentoring leader. The standing ovation he received was a measure of the esteem in which he is held by singers, musicians and audiences alike. The evening was no less than an enjoyable triumph and a credit to Vaughan and his work over the years.