RSNO Christmas Oratorio, Usher Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Christmas Oratorio RSNO
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Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Sir James MacMillan, Christmas Oratorio
Sir James MacMillan (conductor), Rhian Lois (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), RSNO Chorus, Stephen Doughty (chorus director).
Running time

Sir James MacMillan came on stage to conduct, for the first performance in Scotland, his Christmas Oratorio. To his left were the soprano and baritone soloists, in front of him the players of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and behind them, raised up, the mighty RSNO Chorus. The Chorus celebrates its 180th anniversary this year.

The Oratorio was written in 2019 in two Parts, each with seven movements. They start and finish with Sinfonia, short orchestral movements. The first Chorus were three beautifully clear antiphons sung in Latin welcoming the birth of Jesus. Soprano Rhian Lois sung poetry from sixteenth century Robert Southwell depicting the simplicity of the Birth, followed by the first Tableau. Here Orchestra and Chorus were joined by Rhian Lois and baritone Roderick Williams to relate Herod's part in the Christmas story. I loved the Communion motet, Vox in Rama audita est behind the soloists A voice was heard in Ramah. The baritone's Aria came from John Donne's Nativity, the Chorus sung a Magnificat antiphon for Vespers on Christmas Day, and the Orchestra played out the first Part.

The second Part began with its Sinfonia and then the Chorus, singing in Latin, the Responsory at Matins on Christmas Day. Roderick Williams' Aria came from Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity. Soloists and Chorus gave us the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition of the first chapter of the Gospel according to St John In the beginning was the Word. For her second Aria Rhian Lois sang from Southwell's The Burning Babe to be followed by the Chorus with a traditional melody and words after the Scottish Gaelic of Father Ranald Rankin, The Christ-Child's Lullaby. All too soon the Orchestra was playings its final Sinfonia.

Stedphen Doughty, the Chorus Director, had ensured that every single word the Chorus sung was clear and precise, really wonderful. It was nearly the same for baritone Roderick Williams - but I was disappointed that for me this wasn't the case for soprano Rhian Lois. Whether it was the score in front of her or her performance that night, I'm not sure. But never mind, at its first hearing, Christmas Oratorio was a very moving, comfortable but full of life work demonstrating the immense skill of Sir James MacMillan. I was enjoying every movement and was sorry when it came to its end - but better prepared for Advent and the Christmas season that approaches.

Event: Friday 24th November 2023 at 7.30pm