Music review: Cappella Nova sing Echoes and Traces in Stirling Castle Chapel

Keith Bruce

Friday, 2nd September, 2016

The Herald


Echoes and Traces

Stirling Castle Chapel

Keith Bruce

four stars

FOLLOWING so swiftly after the vocal music binge of the Edinburgh Festival, and playing a range of less familiar venues, the reappearance on the scene of chamber choir Cappella Nova, performing an important programme of new commissions by composers working in Scotland has perhaps not been as remarked as it might have been at another point in the year.

Artistic director Ailie Robertson, whose own Eastern-influenced composition concluded the entirely unaccompanied programme by the 12 singers, asked for responses to the 13th century Hymn to St Magnus which had previously been used by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, so the project has inevitably become in part a tribute to Max, who died earlier this year –quite explicitly so in the case of Sally Beamish’s Saint’s Day.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, it was one of the highlights of the evening, a rich celebration of both the martyr and her mentor that was as challenging to perform as Stuart MacRae’s Magnus, Noble Martyr, with its exquisite choral voicings that made the most of both the singers and the acoustic. Both are likely to have a live beyond Echoes and Traces, as surely will Savourna Stevenson’s Magnus, the only “song” of the eight and remembering her late composer father in its gospel inflections.

The other works, by Hanna Tuulikki, Matthew Whiteside, Rory Boyle and Aidan O’Rourke – the latter all the better for being percussively language-led at its most memorable points – are all well worth the hearing as the suite tours Scotland’s historic buildings, hampered only by somewhat clunky production, with between song live commentary by John Purser. A little theatrical advice to the musicians might have been no bad thing.

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