Nottingham Bach Choir
November 24 2018
St Mary’s Church, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
An Elgar oratorio with plenty of Wagnerian intensity
If you’re not religious (and even if you are) it could have been a bit daunting to open the Nottingham Bach Choir’s programme for Elgar’s The Apostles and see the nine pages of words which Elgar set to music. Elgar’s fervent commitment to his faith leaps off the pages before a note is sounded. And there’s the cast list too: Jesus, Apostles (of course), Mary Magdalene plus an Angel and Mystic Chorus.
Once the work starts, however, the effect is quite different. This is Elgar’s Wagner opera, its music thrilling for believers and non-believers alike, its network of leitmotivs worming their way into the listener’s subconscious, ensuring that each of its many episodes has its own vividly portrayed atmosphere.
Take for instance how the Nottingham Bach Choir and Players handled the Prologue, seizing the attention with a grandly dignified richness of sound, laying before the audience with judiciously paced clarity some of the oratorio’s major themes: the ‘Man of Sorrows’, the Gospel and the foundation of the Church.
There was much razor-sharp detail amongst the finely drawn scenes, such as the sounding of the shofar, the Jewish ritual trumpet, as dawn breaks and the sun rises on the morning prayers in the temple.
And there was much drama in the depiction of character. Marcus Farnsworth (as Jesus) and all the other soloists (Philippa Boyle, Jessica Gillingwater, Timothy Langston, Stephen Cooper and Julian Empett) brought not only fine voices but also much operatic intensity to their roles.
The final scene illustrated just how carefully conductor Paul Hale had prepared choir, orchestra and soloists for this performance. The Apostles look up to Heaven, joining with the Angels in what seemed a miracle of radiant scoring. The inevitability, the sureness of the symphonic sweep was a fitting climax to a fine performance.
Nottingham Bach Choir and Players
Conductor: Paul Hale
Soprano: Jessica Boyle
Mezzo; Jessica Gillingwater
Tenor: Timothy Langston
Baritone: Marcus Farnsworth
Baritone: Stephen Cooper
Bass: Julian Empett