HELENSBURGH Oratorio Choir’s spring concert, held in the Parish Church last Sunday, marked a slight departure from their normal repertoire.

Billed as A Night at the Opera-torio, it presented Puccini’s rarely-heard Messa di Gloria in the first half, followed by a selection of operatic choruses and arias in the second.

Under their enterprising new conductor, Jonathon Swinard, they rose to the challenges with confidence, settling quickly into the Puccini style and producing a well-balanced sound in the quiet opening sections of the Mass.

Later, the faster, more dramatic music in the Gloria and the Credo was despatched with verve and no little panache, the choir making light of the music’s many tricky corners, and relishing Puccini’s ‘big tunes’ such as the wonderful Qui tollis melody which here was given a proper nobility.

The performance was enhanced by the singing of the two soloists, tenor Christopher Turner filling the church with an authentic Italian ring in the Gratias aria, while baritone David Stout was by turns sonorous in the Crucifixus section and mellifluous in the Benedictus.

The final Agnus Dei, in which they joined forces with the choir, was a particular highlight.

After the interval, both singers returned to deliver arias by Donizetti and Verdi respectively, while the choir forsook their normal repertoire to present three opera choruses, sung in the original Italian.

This was a calculated risk on Swinard’s part, taking the choir members – not to mention the orchestra of students from the RCS, led by a quartet of players from the orchestra of Scottish Ballet – out of their comfort zone.

But, despite a few orchestral rough edges, it paid off handsomely, particularly in the well-known, but surprisingly difficult, Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco and in the final item of the concert, Mascagni’s Easter Hymn.

Here the choir was joined by the Welsh mezzo Sioned Gwen Davies, soon to represent her country in the Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

She had impressed earlier in a dramatic aria by Donizetti, but here her singing, combined with that of the choir, responding to the conductor’s sure sense of pace, brought the evening to a highly fitting climax.