Bearsden Choir/Nunn RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

LAST year’s edition of Scottish Opera’s annual touring show, Opera Highlights, was to have supplied both the soloists for Bearsden Choir’s concert of Brahms’ German Requiem, soprano Monica McGhee and baritone Daniel Shelvey. So when Shelvey called off unwell, it was fitting that a recent Emerging Artist with the company, Arthur Bruce, stepped in at the last minute.

McGhee’s solo, Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (You have sorrow now), is the one section of the Requiem like a concert aria – and the only time the choir sang their part seated – because the work is chiefly, and most memorably, about choral singing.

Those familiar with the two piano accompaniment version from the recording by chamber choir The Sixteen might have wondered about its use with such large forces, but in fact this was a beautifully balanced concert, both in the careful dynamic control of Judith Keaney and Lynda Cochrane at the keyboards and in conductor Andrew Nunn’s direction of the sections of the choir.

The past year has seen healthy recruitment to his auditioned choir, which boasts a much wider age range in its members than many amateur choruses. That strength in numbers was an asset Nunn exploited to the full. For the crescendos in the long second movement and after the baritone has sat down in the third, it was necessary only that the choir sing out rather than force the volume, so the ensemble sound was always maintained.

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What was impressive from the opening bars was the ability of this large unit to sing quietly. More remarkably still it was the men whose soft-toned but precise note-shaping set the most compelling example, and that applied as much to the lower voices as to the eight first tenors. Nunn may have made his name with the all-female group Les Sirenes, but he has built a gender-balanced chorus in the Bearsden Choir that is one of its notable qualities.

There is some rhythmically tricky music in Brahms’ Requiem, in the later parts of those early movements and again in the sixth, Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (For we have no lasting city), which contains the singular message of the work. The choir articulated them all with great musical skill, only very occasionally letting their crisp German diction slip, and the sopranos delivered their highest notes in the later movements with assertive confidence.

Nor are the choir taking much of a break over the festive season, with their next concert – of the Faure Requiem and Vivaldi’s Gloria – scheduled for the end of February. Their television career also continues, with a contribution to BBC Scotland’s Reflections at the Quay on Christmas Day.