Birmingham Bach Choir
St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham
Review: Paul Gray, Saturday 24th November 2018
Birmingham’s Baroque Architectural Gem Hosts Bach’s Baroque Musical GemsI noted with interested from the programme notes that the first item in Birmingham Bach Choir’s Brilliant Bach programme, Cantata BWV 21, Ich Hatte Viel Bekümmernis, was composed in 1714. This was the same time St Philips Cathedral was being built. The performance of Cantata 21 was full of period detail, so it seemed appropriate that it should take place in a baroque church contemporaneous and at one with the aesthetic of the music.
Cantata 21 is a large scale, emotionally expressive work. After an instrumental introduction, played with a combination of emotional flexibility and precise attention to detail (including an exquisitely expressive solo oboe obligato) the choir delivered the first chorus with well-balanced, tight ensemble, telling phrasing and clear diction.
An impressive team of soloists brought a freshness of tone to the solo numbers. Soprano, Natalie Clifton-Griffith, possesses the perfect baroque voice; “white” but never cold. Tenor, Daniel Auchincloss, sang with delicacy and an effortless higher range. The tempos in some of his more florid numbers could perhaps have been less rushed. Bass-baritone, Julian Debreuil, used his rich and powerful voice to great effect.
The first half came to an end with the chorus, Das Lamb, das erwürget ist, a powerful, richly scored piece which the choir delivered with suitable heft and energy, after a rather rocky start in terms of ensemble; if there is anything that could improve the overall performance of this superb choir it would be the simple need to watch the conductor more.
After the interval the choir regained its poise and togetherness to deliver the intricate and demanding choruses of the Mass in G minor with great rhythmic propulsion, attention to detail, crystal diction & contrapuntal integrity. Again, the solo singing was excellent and the balance and communication between singers and obligato instrumentalists exemplary.
To end the evening Cantata BWV 29, Wir danen dir, Gott started with an orchestral prelude which showcased the dexterity of organist, Martyn Rawles. The rest of the band seemed a little tentative during this. The choir was assured during the choruses and we got our first chance to really hear and enjoy the effortlessly beautiful voice of Counter-Tenor, Simon Ponsford.
This was an evening of beautiful music delivered with intelligence and emotional commitment.
Conductor Paul Spicer
Soprano Natalie Clifton-Griffith
Counter-Tenor Simon Ponsford
Tenor Daniel Auchincloss
Bass Julian Debreuil
Organ Martyn Rowles
Orchestra The Musical and Amicable Society
Birmingham Bach Choir