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Inspiring Masses

26 June 2010

Birmingham Bach Choir
Holy Trinity Church, Much Wenlock

Take two unaccompanied Mass settings written in the same year (1922) by Italian and Swiss composers with similar choral tastes, and you have perfect material for a 'compare and contrast' A-level Music question. Pizzetti's Messa di Requiem and Frank Martin's Mass for double choir, however, offered the Birmingham Bach Choir much more than an academic exercise. In their fusion of counterpoint and Gregorian chant with 20th century harmonies and textures, these rarely performed works have many complexities, yet achieve an almost timeless purity of utterance. But they are extremely difficult to sing, the multi part writing (at one point Pizzetti sub-divides into twelve voices) constantly challenging the choir's ability to find the notes and stay in tune.

None of that seemed to bother these remarkable singers who, apart from an occasional wobble at the start of some phrases, sang with plowing assurance under Paul Spicer's calm and empowering direction. Both works hit every emotional button, memorably so in Pizzetti's anguished, almost Russian Orthodox sounding Libera me, while the exultant climaxes and harmonic daring of Martin's Sanctus and Agnus Dei seemed atypical of any easily definable school or nationality and, heard in terms of 21st century post-modernism, sounded stunningly up to date.

Rating: 4/5

David Hart
Birmingham Post, 1 July 2010

Holy Trinity Church, Much Wenlock