The Scotsman – Concert at St Ninian’s Cathedral, Perth – 4 Stars – 2008
This review was originally published as a Live Review on The Scotman’s Website on Monday, 12 May 2008.
WITH the Usher Hall out of action, the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union (ERCU) is taking the opportunity to get out and about in Scotland. Saturday saw its sizeable ranks swelling the generous acoustics of Perth’s St Ninian’s Cathedral, with a programme that was more potpourri than ERCU audiences are possibly used to.
This was a mix of the rare and not so rare: on the one hand the stirringly familiar sounds of Handel’s Zadok the Priest, the innocuous jazzy rhythms of John Rutter’s Praise the Lord, O My Soul, and choice excerpts from Brahms’ Requiem; and on the other, the lesser-known delights of the Russian Mozart contemporary Dmitry Bortniansky (his lugubriously ecclesiastical Let My Prayer Arise No 2) and parts of Kenneth Leighton’s emotively-charged Sequence for All Saints.
In Michael Bawtree, the ERCU has a director who urges the broadest spectrum of expressive singing, and that was key in showing works, such as Louis Vierne’s short Messe Solennelle and Grecki’s Totus Tuus, in their best light. Every one of these performances, despite the eternal problem of keeping high soprano lines bang on pitch, benefited from richness of tone, definition of attack, and boldly-shaped phrasing.
Morley Whitehead’s supportive accompaniments rooted out characterful sounds on the warm-voiced organ. He went solo with Dubois’ Toccata in G, and with Bawtree, explored the rare world of organ duos through Rutter’s inauspicious Variations on an Easter Theme.
But overall, this was a programme that thrived on variety and slickness of presentation.