A Ceremony of Carols

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

SOME of Scotland’s young folk have a busy musical time of it at the end of the year. There were singers performing Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols with the RSNO Junior Chorus who then had to hot foot it down to the City Halls on Sunday afternoon to take part in the Junior Royal Conservatoire of Scotland concert, beginning just half an hour later. I am sure they took it all in their stride.

The RSNO’s youth choir has a new director in London-based Irishman Patrick Barrett, and he had thrown his young musicians the considerable challenge of the whole of the Britten — and its mix of Middle and modern English and church Latin — accompanied by the orchestra’s principal harp Pippa Tunnell, rather than cherry-picking a few highlights as chorus-masters often do. Of those familiar pieces, the Deo Gracias was particularly well dispatched, but the youngsters may have handled the tricky, over-lapping rhythms of This Little Babe better in rehearsal. The less familiar Wolcum Yule! was a highlight, and so were some of the solo performances stepping out from the ranks, especially Amy Higgins’s That Younge Child and the Spring Carol duet by Beth Taylor and Olivia Eccles.

The RSNO Juniors is a large choir, but you might not need to remove both socks to count the boys in it at present, so it was good to have the Glasgow Cambiatta, Frikki Walker’s relatively new body of young men, in the concert as well. There are some very young tenors indeed in this chorus, which was both considerably bigger, and sounding considerably improved since I last heard it. If Britten’s work is still a big part of the youth music catalogue, Scotland has its own national treasure in that area in Ken Johnston, and of his pieces in the Cambiatta’s repertoire, the McCartney-esque Christmas Present stood out.

Both choirs came together at the end for newly-commissioned arrangements by Michael Higgins, culminating in a funky, rather than processional, We Three Kings, which made light work of all those verses.