Bearsden Choir

City Halls, Glasgow

four stars

ALTHOUGH it is not likely to boost the number of performances of his work, it is easy to see why Bearsden Choir alumnus George Swann leapt at the chance to orchestrate the work his fellow singers premiered a year ago.

Swann’s setting of Romantic poet John Clare’s Love Lies Beyond The Tomb was given another dimension with the addition of a score for the McOpera ensemble that opened with Sue Baxendale’s horn and gave all the wind players, and particularly the combination of flute and clarinet, a specific role in the accompaniment.

The singular wordless section, before Clare’s fifth stanza, was given a combination of low strings and bassoon in the underscore, and bracketed by passages of unaccompanied singing in what was a very effective development of the young composer’s work.

If last May’s City Halls concert, which placed the piece in the company of Tippett and Mozart, was Bearsden’s boldest programme to date, Sunday afternoon’s continued the adventure with the contrasting challenges of Arvo Part and Giacomo Puccini. Conductor and chorus director Andrew Nunn has now been at the helm for ten years, during which the choir has made remarkable strides.


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This year is the centenary of Puccini’s death, but he was even younger than Swann when he composed the Messa di Gloria as his graduation project from Milan Conservatory. It is a young man’s work, the lengthy Gloria a showcase of his skill in different ways of setting the Latin liturgy.

The structure of the piece is oddly unbalanced, however, with that movement and the Credo that follows on a different scale from the other sections, but there is some wonderful music for the chorus to get its teeth into, a basket of choral confectionery that this choir clearly revelled in.

The soloists, tenor Daniel Bell and baritone Pawel Piotrowski, both from the Alexander Gibson Opera School at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, have less to work with, but requiring singing of wide range. Bell’s Italianate voice was especially suited to the music and Piotrowski was most effective on the Benedictus in the penultimate Sanctus movement.

Arvo Part’s Marian anthem Salve Regina, which opened the concert, premiered in the first year of the present century and could hardly be more different. With a distinctive accompaniment of strings and Christopher Nickol’s celesta, it is a particularly challenge for a choir of this size.

The unison tutti at the start was perhaps a stretch, but the close-harmony section-work that followed was much more secure and the crescendo on “misericordes oculos” very precisely executed.