Review: An Aifreann Ghàidlig - St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow

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GLASGOW’S first performance of Blair Douglas’s new setting of the Gaelic Mass, conducted by Alasdair Mitchell, took place in the beautifully illuminated St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, preceded by a controlled, expressive performance from Lewis singer-songwriter Gillian MacKenzie, accompanied by Mhairi Hall (keyboard) and Ewan MacPherson (guitar).

The Mass is arranged for choir, two soloists and a small orchestral group with two violins, viola, cello, flute and clarsach. Orchestral scoring was done by Andy Thorburn. Inverness Gaelic Choir proved why they are one of Gaeldom’s top choirs. A warm tone and clear diction were notable features of their performance. The voices of Paul MacCallum (tenor) and Maggie MacDonald (soprano) were well-chosen for the solo parts. The Mass begins with the lovely hymn Loinn an t-Saoghail in which the two soloists sing in harmony. This and the instrumental La Pieta which follows are clearly rooted in the Gaelic tradition. The modal scale used for the Kyrie strengthens this impression. In contrast, the joyful Gloria has strong Baroque influences.

The Credo is very different in musical style to the rest of the Mass, as it is sung by the male voices to a drone bass accompaniment. The moving Sanctus is followed by the Benedictus which builds up to a powerful climax on the words “Moladh do Dhia anns na h-Àrdaibh” (“Praise to God in the highest”). A sense of peace is created by the prayerful setting of the Agnus Dei.

At the conclusion of this performance, the hymn Glòir don Athair was a triumphant acclamation. The dance rhythms in the orchestral parts create a feeling of joy.

Blair Douglas has created an inspiring work.

Rating: *****