For Those We Loved – A concert to remember, Birmingham Bach Choir, St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, Saturday 2 April 2022, 5***** David & Paul Gray

Ralph Vaughan Williams – Lord, Thou hast been our refuge – Prayer to the Father of Heaven

Gustav Holst – Turn back O Man

Ralph Vaughan Williams – Five Mystical Songs

Paul Spicer – Sound the Invisible Trumps – Finale from Suite for Organ

Parry – Blest Pair of Sirens

Birmingham Bach Choir presented a timely and appropriately thoughtful programme of music to reflect on the loss and suffering we have experienced over the course of the COVID pandemic.

World events have taken a turn for the even worse over the last few weeks with the invasion of Ukraine, so it was right and proper that a concert of remembrance should also take pause to dwell on the pain of that war with an opening additional item – A Prayer for Ukraine with words by Oleksandr Konysky and music by Mykola Lysenko.  This was sung with great warmth of feeling.

The evening commemorated the birth of Vaughan Williams, whose music dominated the programme, and was also dedicated to Mike Lloyd, who was closely associated with the choir and passed away with COVID two years ago.  Former choir member, Pauline Round was also remembered in one of the main items of the evening, a newly commissioned work by the concert’s conductor, Paul Spicer.

Spicer’s Sound the Invisible Trumps is the result of a bequest by Pauline.  The choice to set texts by a variety of writers: Alcuin, Walter de la Mer, Kabir, an anonymous 12th Century poet and by Pauline herself, enabled the composer to craft a work that plots a clear, well-structured emotional journey from an opening meditation on the pain of human existence, to a joyful dancing conclusion celebrating life and ‘the delight of a hundred arts’.  The two short settings of Pauline Round’s poems carried particular emotional impact and truth. Indeed, the exquisite setting of An Ancient Olive could well stand out and work as an independent meditative showpiece.    

The other main work of the evening was Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs.  Baritone, Ed Ballard invested the solo passages of these with great beauty of tone, intelligent, controlled, and nuanced singing, and a heartfelt emotional honesty.  There was a wonderful feeling of a very natural, yet musically precise, interplay between soloist and chorus. The final movement, Let all the world, gave the choir the chance to really raise the roof.

Paul Spicer’s deep immersion and understanding of the works of British composers of the late 19th and early 20th century was evident throughout the evening.  The characteristic long phrases were exquisitely shaped.  The choir’s excellent diction highlighted the close relationship between text and music.  Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens provided a suitably uplifting end to the evening.

Birmingham Bach Choir

Ed Ballard – Baritone

Martyn Rawles – Organ

Jonathan Sheppard – Trumpet

Paul Spicer – Conductor

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