Visiting the Sage to perform a larger concert tomorrow night with the National Youth Orchestra, the National Youth Choir of Scotland presented a solo recital this evening, showcasing, we were told, some of their recent repertoire and favourite pieces, including contemporary arrangements of Scottish folk songs.

The concert opened, appropriately, with Gabriel Fauré’s well-known Cantique de Jean Racine, written when the composer was just 19. This lovely piece balanced the parts nicely and showcased the choir’s excellent ensemble singing. The youthful, pure sound of the sopranos was just what I was expecting, but from their first entry I was amazed at the richness and maturity of the alto section.

The first half of the concert was made up mainly of sacred music and concluded with Eric Whitacre’s setting of the great lament When David Heard. The piece builds in intensity, with the words “O my son Absalom” repeated over and over, first weeping and wailing, then a later section began with the altos chanting the words on a monotone before a massive cluster chord built up over the top. The piece ended with those words again, dying away to a quiet keening. The technical performance of the piece couldn’t be faulted, and conductor Christopher Bell told us that it’s one that they particularly enjoy singing, but I felt it lacked something in passion. Perhaps they were enjoying it too much.

Tippett’s Five Spirituals from A Child of Our Time gave the basses a good opportunity to show off their powerful lower register - again, an impressive sound for a youth choir. The chorus sections of Go Down Moses were particularly effective, as was the staccato singing in Nobody Knows, and I enjoyed the soprano solos throughout the pieces. Some of the quieter sections of the Tippett seemed nervous, but if this was the case, the choir gained in confidence as the concert proceeded.

Throughout the concert, the choir sang in a well-disciplined way, with exceptionally well-shaped, long phrasing. The long chanted sections of Taverner’s Funeral Ikos are the sort of thing that can be in danger of sounding ragged with such a large choir, but they stayed together very well, driving forward relentlessly in the verses and sounding convincingly sublime and orthodox during the Alleluias.

A lighter second half programme produced some interesting settings of folk songs, and folk-inspired pieces. Mátyás Seiber’s Three Hungarian Folksongs were sung with gusto, the choir drumming out the rapid words faultlessly. Interestingly, despite the composer’s name and the title of the work, these pieces were written in English, and Christopher Bell said that they had been the perfect choice when the choir toured Hungary and were able to present Hungarian pieces without having to master the language. James MacMillan’s Lassie, wad ye loe me was also an original piece, written in a folk style, with some nice sections imitating bagpipes.

By the time they got to Stephen Deazley’s The Circus (with some great dog-barking noises from the tenors) and an arrangement of Piper o’ Dundee the choir were looking much more relaxed than they had done previously, and the concert closed with a warm performance of Chilcott’s Irish Blessing and another Eric Whitacre piece called Sleep. Whitacre originally set Robert Frost’s famous poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening for this piece, before discovering that he didn’t have copyright permission to use those words, so loath to discard the lovely music he had written, he asked a friend to write some alternative words to fit the music. The work, and the concert, closed on a hypnotic, long soprano note with the basses dozy beneath them murmuring “sleep, sleep”.