The Edinburgh Singers’ final concert for this season is one of revelation and re-evaluation—and both the unknown and known—in this wonderful programme given to a packed Greyfriars tonight. The revelation comes in the first half, with Gustav Holst’s Seven Part Songs for soprano solo, ladies voices and strings. The poems are by Robert Bridges, who Holst admired, and deal exclusively with feminine beauty tempered with unrequited love.
Holst uses the orchestra delicately and sparingly throughout, but with the clear textures and harmony that preface his bigger works. The ladies of the choir sing their often sinewy lines with precision and clarity, and soprano Catriona Clark’s solos are superb. Hopefully, this rare performance of this music may inspire others to take it up.
The re-evaluation comes in the second half, with a performance of Brahms’ mighty German Requiem—a standard of the repertoire, and usually performed with a large orchestra. Alastair Digges chooses to use a pared-down chamber orchestra, and this is a wonderful opportunity to see this piece in a new light, as if its layers of lacquer have been stripped away.
The Singers’ forces benefit from this lighter accompaniment too, and they are easily heard to their best advantage. Brahms’ work isn’t a Requiem in the traditional format: it doesn’t use Latin and it eschews all notions of hell-fire and redemption. Instead, Brahms uses German versions of Lutheran texts, which espouse a good life, and its glory and solace for the living who remain. Particularly effective are the huge funeral march of the second movement, where the orchestra really shine without overpowering, and the fourth movement (How lovely …), which the choir do especially well.
The two soloists are excellent: Clark’s ravishing fifth movement is well-controlled and beautiful; baritone James Arthur’s stern third movement is wonderfully rounded tonally, and gives weight before the first two enormous fugues, both of which are well done. The last movement is full of blessings, and this performance lifts the spirits.
As we now expect from the Edinburgh Singers, this is fantastic programming: great and supremely secure choral singing, and charismatic and musical direction from conductor Digges. Bravo to the orchestra (some of whom are SCO players) for a wonderful job. All certainly bodes well for the Singers’ 2017-18 season!