Bearsden Choir/Nunn

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

SATURDAY afternoon belonged to George Swann, it is safe to say, and not just because Mozart and Michael Tippett are no longer with us – nor because the young composer’s peer-group fan club were vociferously present at Glasgow City Halls.

The Glasgow University graduate, a member of the choir and a product of Christopher Bell’s National Youth Choir of Scotland music education system, is becoming an established composer and gave Bearsden a world premiere in his setting 19th century poet John Clare’s Love Lives Beyond the Tomb.

It may have been the shortest work in the programme, but it fitted the ensemble to which it is dedicated like a glove, every word of the text demanding the fullest attention in its meticulous verse-by-verse construction.

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The piece owes something to Vaughan Williams, but also to contemporary American composers Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen. Swann’s wordless preface to the penultimate stanza’s “And where’s the voice” and hymn-like conclusion were beautifully executed by the choir.

It was in the work’s gospel-tinged piano accompaniment that echoes of Michael Tippett could be heard, whose A Child Of Our Time opened the concert. Sung from memory by the choir, who have added their voices to a forthcoming John Birdcut film about the composer, this selection of extracts went beyond the arrangements of spirituals to give more sense of the whole work, with contributions from the four soloists – soprano Ellen Mawhinney, mezzo Lauren Young, tenor Jamie MacDougall and baritone Andrew McTaggart.

In what was Bearsden Choir’s most original concert programme, the main work, after the interval, was the Mozart Requiem, performed with the four hands piano accompaniment, supplied by the St Magnus Festival partnership of Lynda Cochrane and Judith Keaney – who had individually supplied the piano for the Tippett (Cochrane) and the Swann (Keaney).

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Choir director Andrew Nunn has unarguably taken the Bearsden chorus to a new level of performance in recent years, and this recital was another milestone in that progression. Perhaps his singers could, in fact, have handled slightly brisker tempi in the Mozart, although the pause the conductor took before the Lacrimosa set up their most poised singing. That quartet of soloists complemented the choir by finding an ensemble approach that clearly owed plenty to their collective opera experience.