The National Youth Choir of Scotland limbered up for a tour of Sweden in July with a fine performance in Glasgow's West End Festival. Hyndland Parish Church's resonant but clear acoustic provided an ideal setting and the singers responded with expression.
Christopher Bell, the conductor and musical director of the choir, had everyone well prepared. They began with Michael Tippett's Five Spirituals from A Child of Our Time. The big sequences and robust melodies of the Afro-American spirituals which Tippett used in these settings were delivered in powerful fashion, but were equally subtle in the quieter passages.
John Gardner's A Burns Sequence was commissioned in 1995 by the British Federation of Youth Choirs and Bell conducted its premi re in Glasgow that year. Burns is difficult to set and Gardner's eight pieces did not succeed in finding many solutions. The most impressive moments came when the melodies were presented as close to the original as possible, as in the solos in "Ca' the yowes to the knowes". The choral settings veered from pedestrian to overblown and occasionally verged on kitsch.
While there was little to fault in the performances, the songs largely defied the attempt to improve or expand the original versions. Quite apart from the composer being English, this does not seem the ideal choice to take to Sweden as a representative of contemporary Scottish culture, although it will be accompanied by James MacMillan's Divo Aloysio Sacrum.
The minister of Hyndland Parish Church dedicated the performance of Faure's Requiem to the memory of Cardinal Winning, who had died earlier that day. It is the most lyrical and melodic of requiems and intimate enough to work well with piano accompaniment, which Stephen Doughty provided for all three works.
The choir excelled itself in this lovely music, both in the well-balanced choral sections and in the solo roles allocated to an unidentified baritone in the "Offertorium" and soprano in "Pie Jesu". The latter can be over-dramatised but was perfectly judged.
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