Review: Lothian Hospitals Christmas Carol Concert, Usher Hall
THERE might still be a week of last-minute chores, tram works avoidance and dreary weather to negotiate before the day itself, but the 146-strong Lothian Hospitals Choir certainly made you remember what Christmas all about.
With Timothy Dean conducting, and the Usher Hall's organ supported by the Thistle Brass ensemble, the choir brought a choice collection of old and new carols to life – and led the audience in a half dozen more ranging from Once in Royal to Hark the Herald.
A number of nurses' uniforms among the choir members helped remind you that this is not a professional outfit. The effort was spectacular, however, and certainly enthusing in all the right ways.
In old favourites such as I Saw Three Ships and the Sussex Carol, they might not have had the purity of sound of a big cathedral choir.
But Dean's operatic background helped them bring out the best of the lilting, lyrical nature of the tunes and give great shape to their singing.
A pair of carols by John Rutter, Mary's Lullaby and Jesus Child, as well as his tantalisingly energetic arrangement of The 12 Days of Christmas, provided much more complex fare.
If the choir's limitations showed, their attack never failed, in strong, vibrant and full-hearted singing.
The sizzle for this concert came in no small measures, either. Staged as a benefit for CLIC Sargent, the charity which cares for children with cancer was happy to welcome its patron, the North Ayrshire-born violinist Nicola Benedetti, to the stage with Alexei Grynyuk on Piano.
Benedetti gave a taste of the fiery, full-fledged violinist she has become in the five years since she appeared on the Usher Hall stage to win Young Musician of the Year.
With a long black and red dress swirling around her, pieces by Ravel and Sarasate oozed Romany influence. Hardly festive, but stunning to listen to.
In the concert's second half, she was back with a pair of more simple pieces. By holding back on her stunning virtuoso technique, she was able to explore the awe-inspiring range of tones and textures she can achieve. She has a touch of the showman, too, leaving the audience holding their breath on her final note of Massenet's Meditation from Thas.
A delightfully performed quartet of carols from the Caritas Choir of George Watson's brought a splash of the new to the concert, while the Thistle Brass added the necessary dash of Xmas syrup with a version of the Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).
A thoroughly satisfying evening all round, and a welcome antidote to the season's more commercial aspects.