To quote the 1936 film, ‘Christmas comes but once a year’: thank goodness for that! Having played for nearly 30 years at carol services and concerts, the endless litany can become a bit wearing. However as a listener, the Edinburgh Singers festive offering is lovely. There are the usual congregational carols sung by a packed church, which is always a great thrill, and they are accompanied on the beautiful Collins organ, by Greyfriars’ organist Henry Wallace. But it is the choir items that are of particular interest, some well-known, others not.
Pearsall’s version of In dulci jubilo (really tricky in parts) is well-rendered, with good solos from the choir (and it stays in pitch). Other favourites include John Gardner’s jolly Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, complete with percussion; Willcocks’ arrangement of Silent Night; Joy to the World; and Sing Lullaby.
Best of all are the less well-known works: Mathias’ Sir Christèmas with all its cross-rhythms, and Rachmaninov’s homage to the Virgin Mary, Bogoroditse Devo, from his All-night Vigil. The latter is dark-hued and melancholy—difficult to sing but done really well. Both Peter Warlock’s Bethlehem Down and Sir John Tavener’s touching yet tricky The Lamb, are particularly well done, and again, are sung without the pitch dropping whatsoever.
Newer works are Paul Edwards’ No Small Wonder; O Magnum Mysterium by American Morten Lauridsen (now a repertoire favourite); and a setting of Lully, Lulla by the young composer Philip Stopford. Trumpeter Bryan Allen brings colour, playing descants to the carols as well as a solo in Adam’s O Holy Night. The choir are sounding good, and seem to have a new lease of choral and vocal life under their young conductor, Alistair Digges.
The concert is thoroughly enjoyable in every way, and is a good start to the Advent season. It is just a shame the mulled wine runs out!