RSNO Christmas Concert

Perth Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

TRUE to his word, the RSNO’s Simon Lowdon, although one term through a year on sabbatical to study composition at Glasgow School of Art, was back in his place behind the tuned percussion for the orchestra’s annual performances of Howard Blake’s music for the animated film of Raymond Briggs’ seasonal story, The Snowman.

His enthusiasm to be part of this run of six performances of music he has played dozens of times is easy to understand. The brilliantly-written musical narrative is the perfect complement to a timeless tale that conjures up the retro world of a perfect Christmas every bit as successfully as Dickens, just as the images play brilliantly with story-book two dimensions and eye-opening perspectives to keep the young folks enthralled.

Other ingredients of the national orchestra’s Yuletide recipe were also in place, Jamie MacDougall back in his multi-tasking role as narrator of the story, presenter of the evening, and vocal soloist on two of the popular song contributions to the programme, and Ellis Nairne from the RSNO Junior Chorus supplying a pure-toned and very precisely enunciated Walking in the Air to the main event.

The other vocalists were the RSNO Chorus, with contributions ranging from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and the tricky rhythms of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day to the perennial silliness of The Penguin Song, which there is an outside chance MacDougall will have mastered by the Glasgow performances on Saturday.

The choir’s own director, Gregory Batsleer, proved to be the ideal man for the conductor’s job on the podium, as much for the orchestral repertoire as their own. That music was very varied, beginning with Glinka’s speedy Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla and including Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker alongside the sleigh rides and snow waltzes.

Crucially, there is plenty for the audience to do as well, and this crowd happily added Sydney Carter’s words to Aaron Copland’s Shaker Hymn as readily as they joined in the carols they were invited to sing. The more reserved people of Edinburgh should be advised that is OK to do when they go to the last show at the Usher Hall on Sunday.