Youth choir brings off its debut with impressive bang

30th August 1996 at 01:00
The National Youth Choir of Scotland made its debut with a bang, not a whimper, earlier this month at Central Hall, Edinburgh in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. There are some critics who come out in a severe rash at the mere thought of Orff. Having been a participant and a spectator, I believe this popular work has lost none of its appeal.

Orff was a man of the theatre and Carmina Burana was intended for the stage. The dramatic juxtaposition of movements was well handled by the conductor, Christopher Bell. In Scotland, he is second to none in his experience of training young voices. From his 70-strong choir, he drew a powerful response that was crisp in attack and precise in intonation.

The lack of space in the hall meant the singers were placed in the gallery. This was a problem for the conductor, but an asset for the audience as the choir could be heard clearly above the accompaniment. Tempi throughout were on the fast side with commendably few gaps between the movements. The choir was superb in the unaccompanied "Si puer cum puellula".

American baritone Kevin Greenlaw, who had the bulk of the solos, was at first a little cautious but came to life as the reprobate abbot. Gillian Taylor (soprano) and Ian Darling (tenor), entered into the spirit of the piece in their more modest contributions. Southampton University Symphony Orchestra provided the backing , returning after the interval for an assertive performance of Dvorak's Symphony No 9 under conductor Robin Browning.

Every orchestra should include this piece in their repertoire. It offers scope for every player without making excessive technical demands.

Mr Browning produced the interpretation he wanted. It was economical in gesture and provided both the required leads and the emotional uplift. He included the seldom heard repeat of the first movement exposition, a convention which the composer later stated should be ignored. It didn't work here as it wrenched the music back from its pre-destined course with an unconvincing harmonic shock.

The large and enthusiastic audience witnessed the promising birth of the National Youth Choir of Scotland. It will surely help to reinstate the importance of choral singing in schools.

This year, the United States had a significant stake in the official Edinburgh Festival.

Throughout the rest of the year the city seldom hosts a visiting orchestra from abroad and Edinburgh relies on these three weeks in August for direct international contact. First on the scene, the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur, confirmed its world-class credentials.

The quality of the orchestra's sound has a radiance seldom heard. In the opening movement of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, Montagues and Capulets, cellos and basses produced twice the volume and tone achieved by others. Even that old war-horse, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, had a breadth and depth that can be captured only in live performance.

Hot on their heels came the legendary Martha Graham Dance Company in revivals from the early days of its foundation. Although the highly-stylised movements, the strutting walk and angular poses, are open to easy parody, Miss Graham has exerted an indelible influence upon modern dance for half a century.

The programmes in the Playhouse included two ballets - Cave of the Heart by Samuel Barber and Copland's Appalachian Spring.

The chance to see these seminal works with their original choreography, sets and costumes was highly rewarding. Heretic, a masterpiece of co-ordinated movement for 12 female dancers, must have astounded the audience at the premiere in 1929. We should be grateful to the band of devotees who have combined to restore this aspect of dance heritage for the present generation to admire and enjoy.

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