Dunedin Consort/Mulroy

Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

IN SOME ways a classic acappella chamber choir programme, integrating newer works into a classic early music mass setting, this last date of a short Dunedin’s tour served to introduce some new faces into the line-up. Jessica Conway, David Walsh, Ross Cumming and Jonathan Kennedy are all young singers working with the ensemble through its Bridging the Gap initiative, a stepping stone for early-career musicians. They were often the ones shuffling between positions in the choir’s layout as their voices were deployed to best advantage for the material.

Tenor-turned-conductor Nicholas Mulroy gave the resulting thirteen-strong group an interestingly varied menu of “music of loss and consolation” to work with, under the title of the opening plainsong, Requiem aeternam. Threaded through the programme were the sections of Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Officium Defunctorum, composed for the funeral of the sister of Spain’s King Philip II at the start of the 17th century. As well as roughly contemporaneous music from his countryman Alonso Lobo and England’s Orlando Gibbons, the recital featured four composers working four centuries later and still with us: James MacMillan, Cecilia McDowell, Roderick Williams and Judith Bingham, all bringing rather different liturgical perspective to the feast.

Of the MacMillans, the concluding SATB hymn, Bring us, O Lord God, was the composer at his most conventional, while his little elegy to the victims at Dunblane school, A Child’s Prayer, reaches beyond the chapel with the choral “welcome” beneath the two soprano soloists. McDowell’s Standing as I do before God was sequenced aptly after the Gradual of the Victoria, its keening solo soprano semi-tone slides setting a text from the First World War which found an echo in Judith Bingham’s use of Wildred Owen’s words. In a similar way, Mulroy brought the first half to a close with baritone-composer Williams’s O Saviour of the World, its direct purposefulness mirrored by the second MacMillan piece later.

Despite the extra man in the section, the ensemble sometimes seemed to lack muscle at the bottom, but the variety of tonal colour this group of singers blended to produce made an otherwise very full and often fascinating sound.