RSNO, Usher Hall, Edinburgh * * * * *
Written for the 1999 Proms, and performed on Saturday in a freshly revised version for his 60th birthday celebrations, James MacMillan’s Quickening has an astonishing capacity to be both completely contemporary and fundamentally ancient at the same time.
A complex and – at 45 minutes long – substantial score, it is deeply emotive, mystical music which grips at the core of the heart.
Setting a series of five beautifully crafted poems by Michael Symmons Roberts, Quickening is essentially about life, the title taken from the moment a mother starts to feel her baby moving in the womb.
Both choirs more than rose to the not inconsiderable challenges facing them, the Festival Chorus singing with a well-blended warmth and
the angelic young voices floating heavenwards from the Usher Hall’s upper circle.
The six King’s Singers’ close-knit ensemble singing was immaculate. To follow, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben seemed light relief, the orchestra again on stylish form, joyously propelled by Gardner, and with charismatic violin solo passages from leader Sharon Roffman.