The Christmas Truce Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, Greyfriars Kirk, Review

Rating (out of 5)
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Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, Edinburgh Academy Singers, Edinburgh Pro Musica Orchestra
Finzi, In Terra Pax; Bingham, The Christmas Truce; Haydn, Nelson Mass.
Michael Bawtree (conductor), Emily Mitchell (soprano), Oscar Dom Victor Castellino (baritone), Anka Arockiam (mezzo-soprano), Kieran White (tenor), Morley Whitehead (organ).
Running time

As the picture shows there was a full audience on Sunday evening at Greyfriars Kirk - cheek-by-jowl with the Edinburgh Pro Musica Orchestra. They in turn were in front of the 107 singers of the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union. The evening's theme was the first Christmas of the Great War, one hundred years ago.

In Terra Pax, composed in 1954, brings together verses from Handel's Messiah with extracts from Robert Bridge's poem Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913 subtitled Peace and good will to all men. The baritone, Oscar Dom Victor Castellino, sporting his vivid pink bow tie convincingly set the scene from the poem followed by the chorus singing the familiar Christmas story. Emily Mitchell's first rate soprano solo took the part of the angel. The chorus responded with more from the baritone voice. A thought provoking work well chosen to set the scene for what was to come.

Michael Bawtree told us the pressure of work composing music had prevented Judith Bingham travelling from London to be with us to hear her The Christmas Truce. At first we heard men in their separate trenches each singing Advent hymns, in German and in English, before it began to snow. The men of the chorus together with the eighteen-strong Edinburgh Academy Singers divide and come forward. By Christmas Eve all are singing favourite carols, O Tannenbaum and Silent Night when a German soldier shouts across to the English captain and there's a truce for Christmas. Judith Bingham's programme notes tell us that both her grandfathers had been there. Eventually the English captain blows his whistle and it was back to war with a massive musical bombardment. Most telling though came at the end as the men of the chorus from either side walked slowly towards one another in gentle embrace. This was both moving and memorable.

It was curiously so appropriate to end with Haydn's bright and lively Nelson Mass - a Mass setting composed at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar. Aka Arockiam as mezzo-soprano and Kieran White as tenor joined the earlier soloists and, with the Edinburgh Pro Musica Orchestra also in fine fettle, gave it to us the way I am sure Haydn would have wished.

This was a thoroughly well designed and well performed concert that does considerable credit to Michael Bawtree's Edinburgh Royal Choral Union and their colleagues.

Concert: Sunday 30th November 2014 at 7.30pm