THESE 19 young choristers, an expert team of period instrumentalists, a brilliant bunch of soloists, inspiringly conducted by Richard Neville-Towle, have become a small Edinburgh Festival in themselves.

For two evenings each year, just before the official festival, they assemble in the gleaming surroundings of Canongate Kirk to give gripping performances of Bach and Handel, with the B Minor Mass a recurring theme and, this week, Handel's Triumph of Time and Truth as an enticing rarity.

As a sunny evening gradually dissolved into darkness, the sight of blue skies, big trees and fine distant architecture through the church's windows – no stained glass here – conveyed the passage of time with the stealth of Handel's oratorio itself. The work is a masterpiece, dating from the composer's early years but more than once updated and enhanced by him in the course of his long career, until in its 1757 version, favoured by this week's performers, it was hailed as "Handel's last oratorio".

From orchestral introduction through to final bracing Hallelujah Chorus (for which the large audience was invited to stand) singers and players made much of the music's ravishingly varied pleasures. Counter-tenor Tim Mead sang Truth's slumber aria to perfection, and with such feeling that its succession of softly floating phrases stood out amid the sharper-edged commentaries of Beauty, Deceit, Pleasure and Time who, characterised by Sophie Bevan, Mary Bevan, Ed Lyon and William Berger, added their own vivid eloquence.

For most of the audience the performance must have been real Handelian revelation, and a sublime prelude to the Bach B Minor Mass, delivered the following night, which impressively captured its fervour, pathos, exuberance, pain and beauty.

The way the singers softly felt their way into so many of the choruses before bringing them to finely etched climaxes spoke well for a conductor whose keen response to the music grows more and more astute. The Sanctus swung to admiration and instrumental solos were vividly projected. Three of the previous night's solo singers, plus Robin Blaze as the heartfelt counter-tenor in the Agnus Dei, contributed tellingly. Ed Lyon was haunting in the brief Benedictus and William Berger was the most articulate of baritones.

Conrad Wilson


Staging a full performance of Mozart's Il Nozze di Figaro is certainly an ambitious task for new amateur opera company Aria Alba – Opera for All, although the enthusiastic and dedicated cast deliver a performance filled with great vitality and passion, with some truly beautiful moments.

The singers are of mixed ability, the most impressive of Thursday's cast being Susan McNaught as Cherubino. She delivered her recitative passages with animation and flair, and gave an excellent rendition of the aria Voi Che Sapete.

A somewhat varied performance, with the final two acts being of a far higher standard than the first two. Soprano Nina Kopparhed, as Susannah, appeared to be holding back for most of acts one and two, but came into her own by act three, and her duet with Colleen Nicoll, as the countess, was enchanting, with both sopranos singing with a sublime blend.

With a cast of singers from the community, Aria Alba has realised its aim of bringing opera to all, and it is wonderful to see so many emerging singers given a platform to perform these major operatic roles.

Miranda Heggie

Final performance tonight


Iain McLarty's "by invitation only" 16-piece choir is a combination of young National Youth Choir of Scotland talents and more mature voices and this programme, under the title of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Serenade to Music, was a fine showcase for their talents. Mostly it was English music, Tippett's settings of spirituals from A Child of Our Time and Psalms by Gustav Holst more familiar than Edward Elgar's very tricky Four Choral Songs that were a bold beginning to the programme. The last of those, the atmospheric Owls (an Epitaph) led with surprising neatness into Eric Whitacre's Five Hebrew Love Songs.

Keith Bruce