B minor Mass
7 July 2012
BIRMINGHAM BACH CHOIR
Bach's mighty Mass in B minor has long been a signature-work for the
Birmingham Bach Choir, whose proudest performance of this masterpiece
was surely in the Leipzig composer's own St Thomas's Church in the late
spring of 1989.
Conductor then was Richard Butt, but this latest account, under Butt’s
successor Paul Spicer, and dedicated to Butt, was equally memorable,
but for different reasons. 1989 was basically emotional; here, at the
Lichfield Festival, it was much more for technical expertise in what
is so often a difficult acoustic, but one which Spicer knows so well,
having previously been the Festival's longest-serving director.
The secret here was the amazing lightness of touch Spicer drew from
his huge chorus, entries deftly etched but never fulsome in their continuation
(not even in the imposing "Sanctus"), diction projected with intelligent
clarify focussing upon key words, and with tone never insipid but engagingly
Remarkable, too, was the contribution of the London Baroque Sinfonia,
a freelance bunch who perform music of this period with extraordinary
elan and communication. Who to praise? Flutes, trumpets, horn, chugging
bassoons? No; all of them.
There was an excellent quartet of soloists: Sophie Bevan (a late soprano
replacement), full-voiced and radiant, counter-tenor lestyn Davies almost
ethereal in delivery, John Mark Ainsley's tenor contributions as gripping
as ever, and bass Peter Harvey sturdily rock-like. But here's a thought:
the soloists actually have very little profile in this Mass. Bach would
have extracted them from his own choristers, I know of at least two
members of the Birmingham Bach Choir capable of stepping up to the plate.
Birmingham Post 12.7.12