Bilbao Choral Society & Nevis Ensemble – Queen’s Hall

“A Stage without borders. Music is universal” – what a brilliant statement to open the concert! Here to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Young People, Bilbao Choral Society’s flawless warmth and harmonies complement the Nevis Ensemble’s strong collective energy. With highly skilled musicians, this concert was well-contrasted in repertoire, and each piece was beautifully executed.

The perfected harmonies were immediately showcased with their first number, ‘Alboradas de boda’. Conductor Urko Sangroniz effortlessly guides the choir through difficult tempo changes and dynamic contrasts. This number flows smoothly into ‘Izar Ederrak’ which features a very rounded and warming sound. The audiences seemed to move with performers as their voices echoed through Queen’s Hall. It was refreshing to witness a choir that feels the music as well as singing it.

The concert progresses in a true display of musical understanding and flawless harmonic control. Special mention goes to ‘Segaloriak’, which started with a beautiful chordal build-up that was rich in harmonies. Every vocal section has their moment to shine, with tenors and basses rhythmically driving the piece and giving the audience a more intense, colourful musical experience. I must say however, the ending threw me off with a ‘shout’ that sounded out of place, especially as the rest of their set did not feature such expression.

The last pieces featured piano accompaniment by Alberto Sáez Puente. His playing was melodic, however lacked connection with the choir. At times, the piano was too loud during pianissimo choral moments, and was too quiet during more fortissimo choruses. It felt like he was a separate component of the concert. Nonetheless, his skill was evident.

The second half, performed by the Nevis Ensemble, provided a high energy contrast to the first half. While Sangroniz had soft and gentle techniques, conductor Jon Hargreaves had a much sharper and energetic style. His enthusiasm reflected clearly on the faces and playing style of the Ensemble, as the first piece (‘Sneck o’da smaalie’) opened with foot stomping, fast fiddle tunes, and lots of cheering. It was an immersive experience, as Jon turned around and encouraged audience members to clap along.

This ensemble provided an unusual, refreshing experience in a concert hall. With a goal to “bring music to people”, each musician projected a warm feeling of community. The repertoire was well-balanced, ranging from Bartok’s Romanian Dances to the more chaotic pieces of ‘Caravan’ and ‘The Ladies’. These could do with more polishing. The string section was often out of time, while the ensemble was overpowered by the brass section.

Nonetheless, each piece showcased the diversity and skill of their ensemble, featuring multiple soloists. Here, the ensemble would kneel down to highlight the outstanding musician. It was this feeling of togetherness that touched my heart, alongside the high energy and passion displayed by all musicians.

Overall, it was an excellent concert. During the ‘Farewell Symphony’, we got to witness both groups performing together, which wonderfully rounded off the evening. The warm choral voices are balanced with the sharper timbre of the ensemble, displayed through different expressions and tempos in each section of the symphony. The ending was my favourite, as Jon suspended the last bar, leaving us to wait (im)patiently to hear the last chord which ended the concert.

 

GUEST REVIEWER: Erica Cham

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