Music review: All the Hills and Vales Along, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh

Not only a showcase for international talent, the festival is a reminder of the vast amount of home-grown talent on our door-step and this year’s focus across the range of James MacMillan’s superlative output for large forces has yielded exceptional treasure.

All the Hills and Vales Along, Greyfriars Kirk

All the Hills and Vales Along, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh * * * * *

The unusual line-up for his oratorio All the Hills and Vales Along, a setting of five poems by Charles Hamilton Sorley, killed in the First World War, featured the National Youth Choir of Scotland, Whitburn Band, Quatuor Mona and tenor Gwilym Bowen.

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In the opening movement loud, furious battle sounds unleashed by the brass instruments and drums set the scene. In Rooks and A hundred thousand million mites we go, Bowen articulated Sorley’s brutally honest account of war with heart-felt passion together with plangent strings while thudding drums and high-pitched violins underscored the choir’s When you see millions of the mouthless dead. All the forces were expertly deployed by conductor Christopher Bell in the poignant apocalyptic finale To Germany with faint ethereal vocal humming evoking the souls of the dead.

The young voices in Bell’s well-drilled choir produced a similar halo of effects to frame soloists Lorna Murray, Kirsty Stirling and Lewis Gilchrist in this highly accomplished and moving account of The Culham Motets.