Entitled British Choral Icons, tonight’s performance with the Edinburgh Singers gives us a whirlwind tour of British choral music. There is no organ, just music for unaccompanied voices, and boy do they do it well. We start with Purcell’s achingly beautiful and yet mournful, Hear my Prayer, followed by Pearsall’s Lay a Garland, with its wonderful suspensions, where similar feelings are found. From this early period comes Gibbons’ joyful O clap your hands—a tricky piece, but delivered with panache.
The rest of the programme is late 19th and 20th/21st century music, from the stalwarts of the choral tradition. There is Stanford and Parry (My soul, there is a country), Holst, Howells and William Harris’ lovely setting of John Donne’s poem, Bring us, O Lord God. More recent repertoire includes John Tavener’s Song for Athene (as sung at the funeral of Princess Diana): it is a simple yet powerful piece, although the basses’ drone does waver a bit.
Then John Rutter’s Hymn to the Creator of Light: this is not the Rutter of cheery Christmas carols, but a more gritty and powerful one—a super piece. This is followed by two pieces by Sir James MacMillan: firstly one of his Strathclyde Motets, Data est mihi omnis potestas—a searing setting, ending with enormous ‘Alleluias’; and to end, his setting (for a friend’s wedding) of Lassie, wad ye loe me?—simple, Scottish and beautiful.
The choir are superb, and ranks very high in the great canon of Scottish amateur choral groups. Alistair Digges has trained them very well: they have fantastic diction and there is not a drop in pitch throughout. This speaks volumes for Digges’ brilliant charisma and musicianship. A thoroughly wonderful evening.