The latest CD to be released by the National Youth Choir of Scotland, which in the five or so years since its inception has become a major force on the Scottish music scene under the inspirational direction of Christopher Bell, tackles some challenging pieces.
The title comes from Benjamin Britten's cantata "Rejoice in the Lamb", written in 1943 on a strange but highly-imaginative text by the 18th-century poet Christopher Smart. It is the highlight of this recording, being sung with conviction, a wide dynamic range, excellent soloists (from the choir) and a wonderful organ accompaniment by John Langdon.
The same sense of commitment pervades the other items, combined with the tremendous enthusiasm of young voices. Occasionally this can get a bit forced, especially in the male sections where the voices are relatively unformed; this is true of sections of the "Five Spirituals from A Child of Our Time" by Michael Tippett. At its best, though, as in the forceful "Divo Aloysio sacrum" of James MacMillan, the choir's discipline and unity of purpose carry all before it.
There is some excellent diction and disciplined singing in John Taverner's moving "Funeral Ikos" and in Herbert Howell's memorial to John F Kennedy, "Take him, Earth, for Cherishing". Britten's other great choral work, the "Hymn to St Cecilia", fares least well, but it is a fearfully exposed piece for unaccompanied choir; it is still a performance with much to say about the music.
There may be better individual recordings of these works available but, taken together, this CD is a handsome tribute to the leadership of Christopher Bell and a fine example of what such direction can achieve for Scottish voices despite restricted rehearsal time. It is worth getting for "Rejoice in the Lamb" alone, as well as helping to support one of the great success stories of recent Scottish musical life.
Noel O'Regan conducts the Edinburgh University Rennaissance Singers