Formed in 1996, the National Youth Choir of Scotland have established a distinguished presence in concert halls on both sides of the Atlantic. And it’s a measure of their excellence that Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted them at the Edinburgh Festival last year, should have invited them to London for his Berlioz Prom.
Prom 20: National Youth Choir of Scotland/Monteverdi Choir/Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner | Rating: ***** | RAH, London
Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet is subtitled “a dramatic symphony after Shakespeare’s tragedy”, and it’s strikingly Beethovenian in form: Berlioz was financially supported while writing it by a grant from Paganini, who exhorted him to “make Beethoven live again”, and it does echo the structure of Beethoven’s Ninth.
But Berlioz’s music owes little to any prior influence: its mélange of choral and orchestral interludes, and its brightly-coloured switchback of moods and textures is entirely his own, even if the fairy-music scherzo does set up its tent on Mendelssohn’s turf. And under Gardiner’s direction the ORR, Monteverdi Choir, and Scotland’s youth choir gave such a fizzing account that this hundred-minute score slipped very agreeably by.
We first encountered the NYCoS singing antiphonally high up in the gods, as their fresh young voices incarnated the young Capulets sauntering home after the ball. But the full choir’s entry – to accompany Juliet’s funeral cortege – was a beautifully-staged moment. Their sound formed a magnificent backdrop to the more focused performances of the Monteverdis, making a massive outpouring of decorous mourning. Mezzo Julie Boulianne stole the show with her ravishing first-movement solo, but there were no weak links anywhere.