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Voicing the Spirit

27 June 2009
St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham

Choir proves a broad Church

The choir takes its name from the master of baroque choral polyphony but revealed its versatility in Voicing the Spirit, a concert with music ranging from Monteverdi to Rachmaninov.

It provided some fascinating contrasts with, for example, three settings of the Ave Maria: Bruckner's, ecstatic with a stratospheric line for sopranos, Verdi's, austere and meditative and Rachmaninov's (in Russian), beautifully warm and most expressive of the maternal aspect of the sacred text. Another Russian item, Glinka's The Cherubic Hymn, was also winningly performed.

There are surprises awaiting those coming to Bruckner's motets after hearing his grand symphonic masses and Te Deum. Under their conductor Paul Spicer the choir gave sensitive but passionate performances of Bruckner's Christus foctus est, Locus iste and Os justi, and in the last of these the great composer of romantic music reaches back to the sacred choral tradition's roots, through Palestrina to plainchant.

Another side of Brahms was revealed too in Ach, arme Welt and the valedictory Geistliches Lied, sparse and uncluttered, and the opening of Warum ist das Licht gegeben was startling with the opening word 'Why?" left reverberating in the air. The choir were rather squeezed into St Chad's relatively small size and this compromised their performance of Monteverdi's magnificent Beatus Vir, which was composed for much grander buildings where both the music and singers had more elbow room. There was still plenty to enjoy though, not least the accompaniment by organist James Longford, who also excelled in solo performances of Brahms' Three Chorale Preludes and Bach's St Anne Fugue. Bach opened and closed the concert: the short and simple Lobet den Herm and the longest of his motets Jesu, meine Freude, movingly sung.

Norman Stinchcombe
Birmingham Post

June 2009

St Chad's Cathedral, St Chad's Queensway, Birmingham