Echoes and Traces presents eight new choral works by some of Scotland’s leading composers, performed by Scotland’s leading modern choral group, Cappella Nova. It is inspired by the 800 year old Nobilis Humilis, the oldest recorded Scottish choral work, which is dedicated to Orkney’s St Magnus, who was martyred in 1117.
Cappella Nova are a superb choral group comprising 12 singers, expertly conducted by Alan Tavener, and they begin the concert by singing part of the original Nobilis Humilis, concluding it at the end of the new compositions.
The eight composers include some of Scotland’s finest, such as Sally Beamish, Stuart MacRae and Savourna Stevenson, and all tackle the theme differently. Hanna Tuulikki begins the series by evoking the sounds of the sea using the old language of Orkney and Shetland, Norn. Aidan O’Rourke also uses this old language, but to evoke the battles of Viking society.
Beamish’s work is dedicated to her mentor, Orkney’s great composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who died in March this year. It is based on a poem by another great Orcadian, George Mackay Brown, called April the Sixteenth, which celebrates St Magnus’s saints day. Beamish uses the full range of Cappella Nova, both as soloists and in harmony, to paint a vibrant vocal jewel that will surely become an established part of Scottish choral music.
The works by MacRae and Stevenson are also superb, and overall Echoes and Traces is a vocal gem. Echoes and Traces is made possible by funding from Creative Scotland, among others, and Historic Scotland helped it tour some of Scotland’s historic sites. It demonstrates the depth of Scottish musical culture, and this is in sharp contrast to the recently concluded Edinburgh International Festival. Although the latter is a great musical festival, this year there were no Scottish composers included in any of its over 50 concerts.
Part of the Edinburgh Festival mission is to bring the best of Scottish culture to international audiences. Festival director Fergus Linehan could do worse than programme Capella Nova and Echoes and Traces into next year’s Festival!