El Niño, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

The Edinburgh International Festival, which this year explores the exchange of cultural influences between Europe and the Americas and beyond, opened with John Adams's nativity oratorio, El Niño, a piece that is as striking for its complex orchestral sonorities as for its often luminous vocal and choral writing.

Conducted dispassionately by James Conlon, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra embraced the characteristic Adamsian mannerisms of chugging rhythms, cinematically swooshing strings and big-band and rock elements, while the Edinburgh Festival Chorus captured the alternately fragmentary spikiness and airy radiance of the writing.

The National Youth Choir of Scotland provided one of the few emotionally engaging moments in the serene final chorus, while alongside the three principal vocal soloists (Jessica Rivera, Kelley O'Connor and Willard White), a trio of countertenors provided a wraith-like commentary. It was a pitch-perfect and polished performance, but for all its superficial stylishness, El Niño blew up little more than a cool draught.