Classical review: ERCU: The Farthest Shore, Edinburgh

The Farthest Shore encircles the audience with a susurrating choir and 'breathy' brass. Picture: Jon Savage
The Farthest Shore encircles the audience with a susurrating choir and 'breathy' brass. Picture: Jon Savage
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AS ONE of the country’s most high-profile composers, Paul Mealor has the knack of writing music choirs love to sing and audiences love listening to.

ERCU: The Farthest Shore - Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh

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The Scottish premiere of The Farthest Shore, commissioned by John Armitage Memorial (JAM), St David’s Festival and the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union (ERCU), also demonstrates his talent for theatricality. In this reworking of Anglesey folk-tale, The Healer, Mealor begins by encircling the audience with a susurrating choir and “breathy” brass to evoke the stormy seas which wash a stranger ashore.

The tale unfolds with conductor Michael Bawtree deftly co-ordinating the ERCU at one end of the church, the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS) Edinburgh choir, conducted by Mark Evans, at the opposite end, with baritone Jeremy Huw Williams in the pulpit and soprano Emily Mitchell moving between the two choirs.

Scoring the accompaniment for brass quintet and organ (the outstanding BrassLab and Simon Nieminski), was a masterstroke as it allowed the richness of Mealor’s carefully calibrated vocal strata to emerge cleanly. The choirs and soloists brilliantly rose to the occasion in this stunning aural sensation with expressive contributions from Katie Doig and Thomas Henderson (ERCU) and, stealing the show, NYCoS’s aptly named Harmony Rose Bremner.

While the ERCU didn’t quite get their tongues around some of the more fleeting lines in Britten’s cantata, Rejoice in the Lamb, they captured its jocose spirit. Bawtree steered the choir through a compelling performance of Faure’s Requiem, and Mitchell’s sublime account of Agnus Dei, to finish off this ambitious programme delivered with enthusiasm and aplomb.