Festival Music

Opening Concert

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce, five stars

THE traditional opening event of the Festival has sometimes been a problematic one as the event’s director sought to make some sort of statement about the tone of the year. There were no such difficulties on Saturday as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the ensemble with the biggest role throughout the 2018 programme, teamed up with the National Youth Choir of Scotland, the first representatives of the younger generation in a year when youth ensembles are given the main stage as part of Scotland’s Year of Young People. The choice of Joseph Haydn’s oratorio about the origins of the world must surely have suggested itself.

The age of the singers of NYCoS is an irrelevance in fact. Chorus master Christopher Bell’s musicians are simply often the best choir in the country, as conductors of the calibre of John Eliot Gardener and Donald Runnicles have long recognised. Here it was Edward Gardner who revelled in the fine balance of a large and dynamically flexible chorus and the fullest forces of the chamber orchestra, lacking a couple of its best regular musicians, but none the worse for that. Haydn’s The Creation can have its longueurs in the second and third parts, but not in this reading, which was full of colour from the “chaos” of the opening to the Alleluia at the end.

The way the choir sang its best known hymn, The Heavens Are Telling, was emblematic of the way they performed throughout. There was a latent power in every department – the young male voices being particularly impressive – but it was intensely musical and pitched at exactly the right level for the vast acoustic.

Gardner’s soloists achieved that balance as well, soprano Sarah Tynan and bass Neal Davies very familiar to Scottish audiences, tenor Robert Murray less so, previous Festival appearances apart. This was his most prominent role in an EIF concert so far and I’ll wager that he’ll be back again.