EIF 2023: National Youth Choir of Scotland, Usher Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
National Youth Choir of Scotland
Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30 (Benjamin Britten); Requiem, Op. 9 (Maurice Duruflé)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra; National Youth Choir of Scotland; Christopher Bell (Conductor); Britten soloists - Emily Kemp (Soprano), Olivia Mackenzie-Smith (Alto), Euan McDonald (Tenor), Joshua McCullough (Bass); Duruflé soloists - Catriona Morison (Mezzo Soprano) & Paul Grant (Baritone)
Running time

With his yellow-cuffed pink blazer, and similarly vibrant shoes, the instantly recognisable Christopher Bell began our afternoon with a splendid pre-concert talk.

There were some games and some action – and the chance for all of us to be involved. Bell told us how his focus for the Choir had been on musicianship (rather than singing, as such) and how the method of Kodaly had been pivotal to his approach. Once further explained, out of the rhythm names came an audience game – and this prequel to the performance was as entertaining as educational.

The programme itself consisted of two magnificent works – maybe not intuitive choices for a Youth Choir, but outstandingly executed without doubt. The first was Britten’s ‘Rejoice in the Lamb’, from the text of eccentric Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno. Of particular note were the mesmerising crescendos around “Hallelujah for the heart of God”, with creation (and choir) summoning all the praise and glory it could muster. In the later sections of the work, there was a breathtaking balance of control and contrast, as extremes in dynamics were wonderfully worked through.

Duruflé’s Op. 9 was a contrasting piece for the second half – it was lovely to hear the Usher Hall organ having prominence here, reminding us that a Requiem is intentionally a sacred rather than a performance piece. However, you can indeed have the best of both worlds – and Catriona Morrison’s enchanting singing of the Pie Jesu was simply heavenly.

While the ‘Libera me’ maybe came closest (musically) to the fire and brimstone of Mozart or Verdi, this composer’s setting was a more spiritual and tender interpretation of a Requiem, the emphasis being much more on eternal rest and peace being prayed – and sung – for.

We knew in advance we would get beautiful music – our works this afternoon being some of the most exquisite ever written. But the particular joy about this performance from NYCOS was in their bringing a freshness and difference to the music we heard. 

The performance finished at 6.05pm.

National Youth Choir of Scotland, Sunday 13th August, 5.00pm, Usher Hall