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Paul Spicer: Unfinished Remembering

Birmingham Bach Choir - Symphony Hall
Saturday, 13 September 2014

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Birmingham Bach Choir delivered one of the most important concerts in its near 100-year history on Saturday when it performed the premiere of their conductor Paul Spicer's Unfinished Remembering.

This near hour-long, four-movement choral symphony was commissioned by the choir with the help of funding from the Feeney Trust and was composed to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

Its problem is that Euan Tait's libretto does not rest there but also brings in examples of intolerance (homophobia, racial violence) in order to question whether the soldiers' sacrifice has been worthwhile.

Tippett's libretto for his similarly pacifist A Child of Our Time at least concentrated upon only one event and made it universal.

Tait spreads his concerns too thinly and Spicer's excellent, deeply-felt score is hide-bound as a result.

Spicer's writing is indeed remarkable, strong, virile, its courageous orchestration well-delivered by a top-form Orchestra of the Swan (special mention to the thrusting brass), its logical, natural word-setting passionately projected by a Birmingham Bach Choir on top form - assiduously rehearsed before the summer break and then returning to consolidate just a couple of weeks ago.

It's a pity that his Bach chorale interpolations didn't make more of an impact, as on paper they certainly add an element of universality to Tait's vision.

But Spicer's solo writing was well conveyed by soprano Johane Ansell and baritone William Dazeley, both always clear and impassioned.

As they had been in a deeply moving performance of Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem, with the choir full, rich and sonorous.

I was not much convinced of the necessity of including Spicer and Tait's A Shared Singing, a so-called ‘National Song' which span out of the Unfinished Remembering project.

Though it was good to hear the singing of the Midlands Military Community Choir which has taken it up, and, through personal participation, to realise how well the melody sits on the voice, it smacked too much of the simultaneous Last Night of the Proms, not quite appropriate to introduce the sobriety of Unfinished Remembering.

Christopher Morely
Birmingham Post, 15.9.14



©Adrian Burrows