Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Batsleer

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce


IF you are a singer in an amateur choir — and the fashionability of those among younger people in recent years has been a fine thing — you owe it to yourself to hear the SCO Chorus. This was afull-strength edition of the choir, at a little under 60 singers, and it really does set the gold standard for ensemble singing round these parts.

These concerts marked the 10th anniversary of the tenure of chorus-master Gregory Batsleer, a man whose athletic-armed conducting style is spookily similar to that of the orchestra’s new principal conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, and began with a work few non-professional outfits would attempt: Igor Stravinsky’s Mass for mixed chorus and double wind quintet.

Although the composer intended the work for liturgical use, it sits much more happily in the concert hall, not least because of its excellent flow as a piece. The four soloists — Mary Bevan, Catriona Morison, Thomas Hobbs and Callum Thorpe — were a parallel ensemble and the transition from their Sanctus quartet to the Benedictus was exemplary, while the unaccompanied Agnes Dei that followed was top-notch choral singing. As for those brass chords towards the end, they are less like church music than the big band scoring of Ellington and Gil Evans.

There was a similarly well-calibrated balance about the Bach Violin Concerto that Stephanie Godley played and directed (in a very understated way) between the evening’s choral works, with remarkable volume from the single bass of Nikita Naumov and a lovely stately slow movement.

For all its musical strengths, Stravinsky’s tilt at a Latin Mass doesn’t achieve the through-composed majesty of the devout Haydn’s Harmony Mass, one of his last works, and the culmination of the programme. The certainty and assurance of the Credo stands in fascinating contrast to the arms-length narrative tone of Stravinsky’s a century and a half later. Once again, moments of transition between the quartet of soloists and the choir captivated, with bass Callum Thorpe in especially fine voice, and finding an echo in the glorious Hosannas of the men of the chorus.