Scottish Chamber Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

NOT only is there a youthful vitality about the audience at the SCO’s Glasgow concerts this season, it was there on the stage on Friday evening as well, with some younger faces noticeably added to the chorus. That was particularly audible in the pure tone of the sopranos in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

Chorus master Gregory Batsleer is a ubiquitous figure in UK choir-schooling now, but I’d guess that the chamber orchestra’s chorus is setting the pace for all his ensembles, certainly for this repertoire. With the instrumentalists deploying some recently-acquired period wind instruments and key principals back in their places in the strings, the tone of the choral singing was beautifully matched to the playing of what is some of Bach’s most sophisticated orchestral scoring. At points it perhaps seemed as if the choir was a little over-strength for the perfect balance, but such was the attention to detail in Jonathan Cohen’s direction from the harpsichord that those occasions were very rare indeed.

Tenor Samuel Boden’s Evangelist was very nicely poised too, and with the familiar dependable Neal Davis the bass-baritone, young English soprano Soraya Mafi and Irish mezzo Paula Murrihy were the other ingredients of a superb cast with the latter’s solo arias, especially the well-known Schlafe, mein Liebster, particular highlights.

In fact this was just half of the work Bach composed late in life to see the Leipzig churches through the advent season, but those first three cantatas will have started this festive season in exactly the right way for many in the audience. I am sure I was not alone in having thoughts of tree acquisition and other Christmas tasks by the time the final hymn had ended.