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Proms 23: BBCSSO / NYCoS / Runnicles review - clarity and momentum

08.08.14
Donald Runnicles
The Guardian

The NYCoS brought vibrancy to Mozart's Requiem, and Donald Runnicles and the BBCSSO generated momentum and dancing colours in John McLeod and Beethoven

 By Erica Jeal 

 

Even in a festival in which we are so spoilt for the sound of a large chorus in glorious full cry, there was still something special about hearing the Mozart Requiem being sung by the National Youth Choir of Scotland.

It wasn't just the sheer volume that went with the size of the choir, 135-strong; or the fact that all the singers are under 25 – though the freshness of the voices certainly made for a vibrant sound, especially in the soaring tenor section. It was also the care lavished on the text. Every consonant was enunciated. Whether in the angry Confutatis, driven hard by conductor Donald Runnicles, or the steady, insistent Kyrie, the words always had meaning.

Those brought up on Süssmayr's completion of Mozart's unfinished score will have found a couple of surprises in Robert Levin's version, with its new Lacrimosa Amen and its longer Osanna choruses. A fine quartet of soloists was topped by Carolyn Sampson's emollient soprano, and the dark-timbred playing of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's woodwinds and trombones added a mellow colour to a distinctive and memorable performance.

The concert had opened with the London premiere of The Sun Dances by John McLeod, a 2001 orchestral evocation of an Isle of Mull folk legend, in which the rising sun celebrates Easter by dancing through a spectrum of colours. Jagged, metallic chords create tension early on, and low sonorities conjure up the shadowy mountain mass. But this is not a grand, majestic sunrise; apart from a sudden lyrical violin phrase that suggests the first tendrils of light curling around the mountain, it's the idea of the dancing colours that is to the fore in restless, sometimes chattering, sometimes almost primal music.

Beethoven's Fourth Symphony also danced, thanks to the well-oiled strings, the characterful wind solos – brighter-toned than in the Mozart – and, of course, Runnicles's unflagging propulsion. The momentum he and this orchestra can generate together is quite something.