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Fringe reviews: Music

The Land of Counterpane:

NYCoS National Girls Choir

St Giles' Cathedral

Singing a programme comprised of mostly contemporary music, NYCoS National Girls Choir displayed a wealth of young, fresh vocal talent in their concert at St Giles' Cathedral on Friday evening.

Opening with The Land of Counterpane, this group of developing female singers delivered Howard Blake's setting of texts by Robert Louis Stevenson, based on his celebrated A Child's Garden of Verses with clear diction and a bright, unobscured tone.

At once both playful and poignant, the choir summon up dreamlike images of childhood imagination with their uncomplicated yet sophisticated sound.

Accompanist Stuart Hope showed phenomenal musical ingenuity as his fluid and perceptive playing beautifully illustrated Blake's music, and Stevenson's words.

Demonstrating a more mature timbre, the ensemble lended angelic, almost luminous qualities to Michael Head's Ave Maria, with layered harmonies blending into one another, though sometimes the top-most notes were a little shrill.

Moving on to Sally Beamish's three "cat" songs, these delightful odes to our feline friends were set to poems by Edinburgh-based writer Richard Medrington and specially commissioned by NYCoS.

The choir conveyed these jovial pieces with a whimsical sense of fun, though not without elegance, poise and precision.

Songs of Praise and Passion: National Youth Choir of Scotland

St Giles' Cathedral

Displaying vocal finesse, strength of sound and emotional insight which belie their years, the National Youth Choir of Scotland truly is a fine showcase of Scotland's vocal talent.

With no holds barred from the outset, the choir opened with a tremendously powerful rendition of James MacMillan's Cantos Sagrados, a setting of poems concerning political oppression in Latin America, juxtaposed with religious texts in Latin.

The singers conveyed the dramatic anguish of this piece to potent effect. Layers of dissonance were expertly executed, with MacMillan's translucent harmonies bleeding into one another.

Stark contrasts of impassioned fury with tender agony were heartbreakingly moving.

Singing with a rich, full blend of sound under the intuitive steering of NYCoS founding conductor, Christopher Bell, the resplendent forces of the current crop respond well to his astute baton, resulting in some beautifully moulded phrasing.

The bell-like tones found in Seán Doherty's Et Clamabant ricocheted through the cathedral while Eric Whitacre's Five Hebrew Love Songs were delivered with exquisite grace, the choir's radiant voices bringing light and colour to the shimmering textures of the piece.

Lithuanian composer Vytautas Miakinis's O Sacrum Convivium brought suspense and intrigue, with the layered chants gradually building up tension, before ending with dazzlingly intricate harmonies, where every note was clearly heard.

Fauré Requiem by Candlelight: National Youth Choir of Scotland

St Giles Cathedral

Exploring every nuance of what is by now a standard choral classic, it would have been hard to find a more atmospheric venue for the National Youth Choir of Scotland to perform Gabriel Faure's Requiem.

Lit almost solely by candles, St Giles' Cathedral was a haven of calm amongst the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh's Royal Mile and provided the perfect acoustic for Fauré's majestic yet humble score.

Each section showed great musical prowess, from a crisp, clear tone from the tenors, to a smooth, velvety alto line in this exciting interpretation of Faure's setting of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead.

Though a large group of singers, the choir were perfectly in sync with one another, with huge surges in volume completely controlled.

The Libera Me was delivered with fiery, spirited passion while the tranquility of the final movement In Paradisum held a truly celestial serenity.

Definitely a soprano to watch out for, soloist Catriona Hewitson sang the Pie Jesu with a crystal clear tone and buoyant, fluid vibrato, her honest voice illuminating the space.

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