Festival Music

National Youth Choir of Scotland

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

AT THE end of Eric Whitacre’s When David Heard, setting a single verse of the book of Samuel after the model of earlier composers, there was much rummaging in pockets and handbags for handkerchiefs and tissues. The hour-long afternoon recital by the chorus that had so impressed at the Opening Concert of EIF 2018 the previous evening was an emotional rollercoaster, and a great deal more than an extended encore to that performance.

Haydn’s Creation had not been without hints of humour, and here, alongside the heart-rending grief of the writer of the Psalms over the death of his son we had Thea Musgrave’s setting of Edwin Morgan’s The Subway Piranhas, which hilariously mocks Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive. Like the Whitacre, it was written for young voices in America, the source of Michael Tippett’s texts for the Five Spirituals from A Child of Our Time, which featured soloists drawn from the ranks of the choir, and, like the Haydn, made one marvel at the maturity of the male voices, and especially the rich low bass notes.

All of this was performed a cappella, with organist Michael Bawtree on the hall’s superb instrument only for the opening Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams with soloist Andrew McTaggart. Recently appearing in distilled Scottish Opera shows in a converted truck across the country, he is one of many talents that has been nurtured in Scotland by the music education system that artistic director Christopher Bell has created to sustain the choir he founded.

Appreciation of all that was in no way necessary, however, to what audiences have enjoyed from these young voices this weekend. Yes, they were blazing the trail for a whole series of concerts by youth ensembles at this year’s Festival, but they are, beyond debate, the best choir in Scotland, the event’s own chorus (which Bell directs for the last time this year) not excepted.

NYCoS has also set the bar very high for the rest of the young musicians we will have the opportunity to hear in coming days.