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Great Russian Sacred Music

Birmingham Bach Choir
Pershore Abbey****

June 22, 2017
Christopher Morley - Brimgham Post

It's rather bad news when a choir rocks up to give a concert in a respected ancient abbey, only to be told that the organ isn't working. But that is what happened to Birmingham Bach Choir on Saturday, meaning they had to make do with the services of a piano, the Abbey acoustic turning it into a permanent sustaining-pedal.

As luck would have it, most of this all-French programme was unaccompanied, and the monastic resonances of this beautiful building were well suited to the laudatory polyphony of Moutons's Confitemini Domino, and even more so to the extraordinary soundworld of the early 16th century Domiqiue Phinot. His Gloria had a lightness of flow, followed by his Pater peccavi in caelum, which with its amazing modulatory sidesteps seemed a premonition of Ligeti, hearly half a millennium later.

Paul Spicer's choristers delivered with confidence and committment, equally apparent in Poulenc's Savle Regina, deeply-felt, despite some raw indvidual timbres emerging from the textures.

Three Motets by the virually unknown 20th-century Pierre Villette proved a real find, not least in the rich blueishness of their chording, before the first half ended with Faure's ineffably glorious Cantique de Jean Racine, basses sturdy in their support for the flowing upper lines, and Martyn Rawles heroic in colouring a piano accompaniment normally only used for rehearsal purposes.

As he was in Faure's Requiem, bringing out instrumental tones to complement the beautifully-phrased polyphonic interweavings of the gorgeously lyrical melodic lines. Tenors were outstanding in their frequent spotlights, David Russell was an efficient bass soloist, and Emily Carew-Gibbs gave us an unforgettable Pie Jesu - pure, innocent, and quietly radiant.

Repeated June 24, St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham (7.30pm). Running time 1 hour 45 minutes.