Nottingham Bach Choir
November 23 2019
St Mary’s Church, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Innovative presentation of Mozart at his most sublime
The Nottingham Bach Choir is now under new management and a bit of subtle re-branding has occurred with familiar items in unexpected places. However, loyal supporters can rest assured that standards haven’t slipped and that one of the most prominent beacons on Nottingham’s musical landscape burns as brightly as ever.
The new maestro on the podium is Peter Siepmann, a man who clearly knows what he wants and who is unafraid of innovation and risk. Two works by Mozart were on the programme: his Symphony No 41 (the ‘Jupiter’) and the Mass in C minor. But rather than playing one after the other, three movements of the Symphony were dispersed between sections of the Mass. This may sound eccentric but it worked, each piece illuminating the other.
My only regret about the Symphony was the omission of the third movement minuet, but perhaps dancing in the middle of a Mass is going too far. The Nottingham Bach Players made the opening movement into an arresting, Olympian overture for the whole concert, the commanding opening strokes for full orchestra grabbing the attention and declaring unshakable firmness of purpose. They gave the Andante a subdued, unearthly melancholy and the finale was carried off brilliantly, breathtakingly fusing multiple melodies before hurtling to its triumphant conclusion in a blaze of trumpets and drums.
The ‘Great’ C Minor Mass is very grand indeed and would have been even grander if Mozart had finished it. Even in its incomplete state it impresses with its intricacy and complexity. Most of the choral writing is serious stuff but the Bach Choir always found beauty amid the sometimes sombre austerity. Balance was carefully controlled, textures were transparent and rhythms buoyant. The opening Kyrie was suitably dark yet vibrantly pointed; the Gloria was jubilant and the Credo lively and urgent.
Mozart’s writing for the soloists verges on the operatic, with brilliant displays of coloratura, clearly relished by sopranos Rhiannon Llewellyn and Kirsty Hopkins, tenor Harry Jacques and baritone Stephen Cooper. They greatly enhanced the expressive power of the Mass not only through beautiful singing but also through their directness of communication with the audience. To pick out just one highlight: the ‘Et incarnatus’ sung with passion and accompanied beautifully by flute and oboe.
The Choir sang the short Ave Verum as a sort of encore and from memory. Its jewel-like perfection brought to a fitting conclusion a concert of music as sublime as any human being has ever written for voices and orchestra.
Nottingham Bach Choir
Nottingham Bach Players
Rhiannon Llewellyn, soprano
Kirsty Hopkins, soprano
Harry Jacques, tenor
Stephen Cooper, baritone
Peter Siepmann, conductor