sat 20/04/2024

RSNO Chorus, Doughty, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh review - breaking out in anniversary Bruckner | reviews, news & interviews

RSNO Chorus, Doughty, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh review - breaking out in anniversary Bruckner

RSNO Chorus, Doughty, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh review - breaking out in anniversary Bruckner

A motet and a mass sometimes needed more focus, but a rare suite proved a delight

The RSNO Chorus in Greyfriars Kirk

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus has a well-established concert life away from the main orchestra; the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus less so. So it was refreshing to get to hear them going it (almost) alone in Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirk, and the Bruckner anniversary gave them a good excuse, building their programme around a motet and the E minor Mass.

Distinctive choral concerts like this are good for any choir because it encourages them to push out on their own a bit and gives them more exposure, as well as more repertoire. This concert showcased a lot of their strengths, even if it also showed where there’s work still to be done.

The RSNO Chorus is significantly bigger than the SCO’s, and you can’t expect the pinprick precision of a chamber chorus from a large scale symphony chorus like this. Even allowing for that, there was a little too much air between the notes in their singing of Bruckner’s Os justi, with some unfocused entries and unclear ensemble. That also haunted much of their singing of the mass: vocal lines had a tendency to collide with one another during the busier sections of the Credo and Gloria, and the opening of the Sanctus needed to sound less foggy, more ethereal. Likewise, it took a while for them to find their focus in Brahms’ Begräbnisgesang, which had a draughty opening that took time to settle. RSNO Chorus in Greyfriars KirkOnce they got going, however, they could sound great. The Brahms reached soaring heights of solemnity in its invocation of the hereafter, capturing the acoustic of the church in a way that was so powerful that it almost strained the ear. Furthermore, the great declarations of faith in the Mass rang thrillingly in the climaxes, the affirmations bringing out the best in both the composer and the singers. Conductor Stephen Doughty always kept a solid handle on things so that when things did lose focus he always brought them together again capably.

The one unadulteratedly excellent thing about the Mass was the playing of the RSNO brass and winds, whose airy textures felt like an extension of the singing at places, mirroring it and expanding it in the church’s acoustic. They also provided the evening’s unexpected hit, the piece I was humming as I left the concert: Arnold Mendelssohn’s Suite for Woodwind, Brass and Percussion. Arnold’s father was the cousin of Felix Mendelssohn, and Erik Levi’s programme note compared his Suite to a 20th century reimagining of Mozart’s wind serenades. Heard like that it all makes sense, a terrifically catchy suite of dance movement that included wistful melancholy, a busy Scherzo, and a finale that feels like a superhero’s theme tune. It’s positive and, at times, terrifically buoyant, incredibly so when you consider it was written during the First World War. The wind soloists played it with vigour, bounce and what sounded like new-found affection. If so, their enthusiasm for it was infectious: I ended up loving it, too.

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