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Bach: Christmas Oratorio

24 November 2012

Birmingham Bach Choir at Lichfield Cathedral

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Bach's Christmas Oratorio is a seasonal fixture in some parts of Europe. In the UK, though, it's probably not going to supplant the Messiah just yet. There's considerable doubt as to whether Bach ever intended these six thematically-linked cantatas to be played in one evening. However, if it's to be done at all, this spirited and loving performance from the Birmingham Bach Choir and Musical and Amicable Society, conducted by Paul Spicer, was exactly how you'd want to hear it.

This was a performance that glowed from within. We've come to expect good things from the Bach Choir, and the choral singing justified those expectations - lively, communicative, and hitting Bach's sudden, ecstatic high notes with fervour as well as mere accuracy in the work's substantial choruses. Just as impressive, though, was the quiet, eloquently-phrased conviction with which the choir intoned the chorales. Even without audience participation, they gave this extraordinary music a confiding quality - making it a true shared experience.

Spicer set brisk but natural-feeling tempi, and gave plenty of space to an excellent team of soloists, from whom Rupert Charlesworth (a ringingly articulate Evangelist) and the clear, fluid baritone of Ed Ballard stood out. Countertenor Leo Tomita made a wonderfully rich and expressive sound. And throughout, Musical and Amicable Society reminded us what a really first-rate period-instrument band sounds like, with brilliantly sure-footed trumpets and an oboe section as earthy and delicious as a well-ripened Shropshire Blue. A true celebration, in glorious colour.

Richard Bratby,
Birmingham Post, 29.11.2012




Lichfield Cathedral