Seasonal wonders with large chorus

by
07 December 2010

Roderic Dunnett hears Bach in Nottingham

iStock

THE glorious rhythmic assurance with which “Jauchzet, frohlocket”, the opening chorus of Bach’s 1734 Christ­mas Oratorio, burst upon the audience in the enabling acoustic of St Mary’s, Nottingham, sugges-ted that here, perhaps, was a choral society of outstanding quality.

Indeed, every contribution the Nottingham Bach Choir made from then on confirmed that this was the case. Here was a large chorus in which all four voices were strong, fine-tuned, and capable of deliver­ing even dauntingly exposed leads with confidence and finesse.

One of the most pleasing factors was the way in which the conductor, Paul Hale, organist of Southwell Minster, achieved perfectly judged ritenuti time and again from his soloists, from an attentive orchestra, and from the whole choir. Hale’s pacings felt constantly right: for the words, for Bach’s music, and for the forces employed. Even where the music suddenly hotted up, as at the chorus’s “Ehre sei Gott” (“Glory to God in the highest”), all voices proved reliable and alert.

This performance, rich in musical imagination, embraced Parts 1 to 3 and Part 6 of the half-dozen can­tatas that Bach welded together. Essentially, the narrative and com­ment rests with the four solo roles; but here results were more mixed. The tenor, David Watkin-Holmes, was unwell, necessitating the omis­sion of two arias, and the making of allowances. Some of the Evangelist’s recitative felt audibly flat. Yet, cur­iously, it was he who was the most pliant singer of the four, preserving the natural flow of the words, often embracing high notes accur­ately, and at all times sensitive to the dy­namic rise and fall of Bach’s music.

The others all displayed a ten­dency to overload. The alto, Simon Clulow (a former head chorister of St Mary’s), in “Bereite dich, Zion”, produced a forced tone, even slightly shrieky, inclining to snatch awkwardly at individual words or high notes and with a fondness for gratuitous portamento. Even “Schlafe, mein Liebster” was not spared. In­finitely more attractive was his “Schliesse, mein Herze”, where res­traint made a world of difference: reined in, he produces a remarkably nice sound.

The soprano, Faye Newton, was not exonerated, either, even though “Nur ein Wink” (“The Lord crushes his enemies”) clearly demands a forceful delivery. Far more engaging was her duet with the bass in Part 3 (“Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen”), which, with oboes and bassoons, plus more attractive ritenuto, proved enchanting.

The bass, Canadian-born Greg Skidmore, emerged best: mostly loud, but without bizarre overemphases, and often finely phrased. His de­livery was commanding, his musicianship was telling, and the assured sound carried well to the back of a packed St Mary’s. Thanks not least to some faultless trumpets and haunting oboe-playing in the pastoral sequence of Part 2, this thoughtful, spirited performance proved truly fine and memorable.

100 Best Christian Books

How many have you read?

Visit the 100 Best Christian Books website to see which books made our list, read the judges' notes and add your own comments.

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read twelve articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)