The Edinburgh Singers are one of the top choirs in Edinburgh and tonight they are celebrating five years with their musical director and conductor, Alistair Digges. They have decided to give us a veritable feast of choral works, beginning with Bruckner’s Te Deum, followed by Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, after the interval Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, concluding with Mascagni’s Easter Hymn from Cavalleria rusticana. As well as their fifty-strong chorus, they are assisted by a very fine orchestra. They have four excellent soloists in Catriona Clark, soprano; Cheryl Forbes, mezzo soprano; Piran Legg, baritone; and David Lynn, tenor. In the lovely surroundings of Greyfriars Kirk, with the evening sun streaming in through the stain glass windows, it makes for a perfect evening of music.
The concert begins with Bruckner’s Te Deum, based on the ancient fourth century hymn of praise and supplication. Bruckner regarded it as his most important work saying he would present it to God and “He will judge me mercifully”. It is a fine work but quite a difficult one, both in the complexity for the chorus and the demands on the soloists. However, Digges is in complete command of the chorus and the soloists. The chorus are magnificent in their harmonies and shadings of this demanding work, and the soloists cope well, although Lynn (tenor) is a little strained in the higher notes.
This is followed by the glorious Alto Rhapsody of Brahms, and fortunately we have the glorious mezzo soprano voice of Forbes, who having studied at the Guildhall, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and with Marilyn Horne (the great American mezzo soprano), is making a name for herself in the opera world. Her lovely rich voice carries the glorious melody of the Brahms Rhapsody (written for the wedding of the daughter of his long unrequited love Clara Schumann) and the orchestra and the chorus complement her beautifully.
After the interval, we get the headline work: the rarely performed Puccini Messa di Gloria. Puccini wrote this as a student exercise aged twenty when he was still at music school. He was originally going to be a church musician, which was his family tradition, but when he heard Verdi’s Aida, he abandoned that idea to write opera and stuffed his Mass away in a drawer where it lay for seventy years until rediscovered: it was first performed in 1951. Rather like the Verdi and Rossini Masses, it is rather operatic, but this gives great scope for the soloists and the chorus, and bass-baritone Legg is particularly striking in this work. He has a rich dark voice and shows us why he is making his name in opera.
The concert concludes with the fabulous Easter Hymn from Mascagni’s famous one act opera, Cavalleria rusticana. This offers a chance for Scottish soprano Clark to shine. Clark is a well-known singer for Scottish Opera (and much beyond), and is the vocal consultant to The Edinburgh Singers. Her lovely soprano voice soars above the chorus and the orchestra in the sublime melody of Mascagni, and sends the very full Greyfriars’ audience happily into the summer evening.