Cumnock Tryst

All the Hills and Vales Along

Cumnock Old Church

Keith Bruce

Five stars

THE big premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s fifth hometown festival was a commission as part of the 14-18 NOW programme marking the centenary of the First World War. The five-movement choral work, All the Hills and Vales Along, setting the verse of Scottish war poet Charles Sorley, with tenor soloist Ian Bostridge joining the Cumnock Tryst Festival Chorus for the premiere, will be heard in an orchestrated version at the Barbican with the London Symphony Orchestra next month, but it seems unlikely that it will have quite the emotional impact of this version, which brilliantly used the intimacy of the church.

A capacity audience shared the space not just with the choristers but also the Edinburgh Quartet with the addition of Scottish Chamber Orchestra principal bass Nikita Naumov, the four members of the Sirocco Winds chamber group, and the brass virtuosi of Tryst stalwarts the Dalmellington Band. MacMillan’s new masterwork builds quite magnificently, starting with a melancholy strain from the string quartet before the chorus, brass and percussion combined in an unregimented military march and Bostridge made a soaring entry from his gallery position with the strings.

The composer’s setting of his selected texts is superb throughout, and the scoring of the different ingredients at his disposal constantly surprising, while the climax of the piece is classic MacMillan, using a repeated percussion figure that proved just how good are the band’s players in that section.

The new work was also given a remarkable context by the rest of the programme, immediately preceded by baritone Andrew McTaggart singing Vaughan Williams’ The Turtle Dove and with MacMillan’s closing chorus “When it is peace” echoing the concert-opening evening hymn, Abide With Me. Holst from the band and Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, teaming cornet soloist Rebecca Wilson with the two chamber groups, preceded anther premiere in A hand holds a candle, inspired by Picasso’s Guernica, and written by Electra Perivolaris from nearby Dalry, and one of the young composers who had featured in a Tryst showcase in the same venue two years ago. In that, and in the way the local and visiting talents combined, here was Cumnock Tryst coming of age.