NYCoS / Until We Meet Again

Signum Classics

We may not have had the thrill of experiencing the National Youth Choirs of Scotland (NYCoS) live this year, but the successive release during 2020 of four recordings on Signum Classics has kept the vision espoused by Christopher Bell’s brilliant young singers well and truly alive.

The latest issue (released on 10 December) is the apposite and timely Until We Meet Again, a heart-lifting EP of Christmas songs, gift-wrapped in sophisticated piano-accompanied settings that show off the wholesome perfection of Bell’s choristers and give a fresh lick of paint to some familiar seasonal tunes.

These are not recent performances, captured originally in 2013 for a televised Watch Night service on the BBC, but as newly packaged recordings they maintain their compelling immediacy. The Bell fingerprint – a hotly-disciplined, full-blooded choral sound from both the flagship mixed choir and amalgam of its children’s choirs – informs every bar of music. On piano, Oliver Rundell is a super-efficient linchpin. 

Seven tracks are on offer, from the seething restlessness with which Thea Musgrave underscores Boris Ord’s famous melody for the advent carol Adam Lay Abounden, to Kenneth Hesketh’s well-seasoned treble voice version of Three Kings, the full-fat extravagance of its piano writing almost inviting the same giddiness one gets from too much Christmas pud.

That the latter follows John Duggan’s artful pseudo-medieval colouring of the Angel Gabriel, the mellifluous nursery rhyme charm of Christopher Robinson’s Infant King, and a Silent Night in which arranger James Whitbourn offsets the calm simplicity of its melody with a strangely intoxicating Brahms-style accompaniment, places it in perfect context.

Which brings us to perhaps the most beautiful, and certainly most sentimental, of the tracks, Paul Mealor’s enchanting I Pray, which craftily weaves Silent Night through an original setting of his own words. Featuring the popular Scots tenor Jamie MacDougall, it’s a magical Christmas moment, unashamedly dewy-eyed, with a poignant message – thoughts of absent friends – for these pandemic times. 

Recognising its commercial potential, NYCoS has also released I Pray as a Christmas single.
It’s not the final number in this excellent album. That honour goes to Richard Allain’s upbeat jazz makeover of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and a rip-roaring performance that lifts the spirits, but also reminds us what we’ve lost in the muzzling of choirs this year. 
Ken Walton