CHRISTOPHER Bell, in his annual Saturday afternoon Christmas concert with the RSNO and the RSNO Junior Chorus, never fails to produce the goods; but this year he excelled himself by producing several rabbits, or crackers, out of the hat.
First and foremost we had the world premiere of a brand new a cappella piece by James MacMillan, written for the Junior Chorus and funded by the Hope Scott Trust. Entitled Nova! Nova! Ave fit ex Eva, the fascinating and beautiful new piece, sung with spellbinding understanding and technical applomb by the chorus, is a characteristic piece that mixes catchy, toe-tapping rhythms with trickily-elusive little vocal turns, is immediately infectious and communicative while being rigorously uncompromising, and is written with the composer's precision-tooled acuity into what is and is not effective for choral forces. After the enthralling performance of a work that will be pounced on by directors of young choirs, one curious lad asked, in all innocence: "Who is James MacMillan?" I told him.
But there were other crackers in Bell's hat his year, with familiar numbers spiced with a brace of Richard Rodney Bennett's arrangements of American Carols, and lovely wee settings of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and Up on the Housetop.
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And on top of all the usual fare, during which Bell spotted one couple who, fuelled with festive spirit, were transported from the congregational bit and got stuck into each other in a massive Christmas snog, the musical forces produced the finest account of The Snowman in years, led by the immaculately-timed narration of Maureen Beattie, a consummate professional if ever there was one. Brilliant stuff.