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St Martin's in the Bull Ring

25 June 2005

Refurbished, re-invigorated, Birmingham’s parish church of St Martin in the Bull Ring has many claims to be considered an important addition to the city’s concert venues.

Centrally placed, it boasts excellent catering facilities, a superb Harrison organ, a wonderful interior, and a decent clean acoustic, though it is appreciated more by the audience than by the performers.

But where it falls down is in the difficulty of motorised access, and that is perhaps why the audience for Saturday’s intriguing programme from the Birmingham Bach Choir was not as large as it would have been in other locations (and, it has to be said, noise from the surrounding Bull Ring was frequently audible).

Several rarities were included in Paul Spicer’s menu, beginning with some early Mozart sacred miniatures, featuring the exhilarating eight part Venturi populi.

Choral sonorities were sturdy, though more confidence was needed in the few solo contributions, and Spicer drew shapely phrasing from his hardworking choristers.

Verdi’s unaccompanied Pater Noster was expressively given, with an awareness of its two ideals (Renaissance polyphony and operatic generosity) which brought it close to Bruckner’s E minor Mass.

Three Mendelssohn sacred offerings were particularly treasurable, melodically serene and rich in harmonic depth, especially Verleih uns Frieden, lyrically communicative, before two Bach motets had the choir on its eponymous mettle.

The “biggie” here was Singet dem Herrn, again in eight parts, Spicer balancing interlocking lines shrewdly, the choir heroic in this strenuous, unforgiving acoustic unsupportive to singers. Alexander Mason provided discreet organ underpinning here in his last Birmingham appearance with the choir. He also gave beautifully registered solos by Mozart (the strangely uneven Fantasia in F minor/major) and the splendid Mendelssohn Organ Sonata no. 3.

Christopher Morley
Birmingham Post 27 June 2005