Monday, 22 October 2018

Masterful marriage of powerful playing and peerless singing

Masterful marriage of powerful playing and peerless singing

THE Reading Bach Choir celebrated its 50th anniversary in grand style.

The performance of Bach’s magnificent Mass in B minor was a repeat of the choir’s very first concert in Reading town hall on January 25, 1967.

The concert hall this time around was virtually sold out, the large audience, which included past musical directors of the choir, attracted by both the commemorative event and the renowned reputation of Reading’s finest polyphonic choir.

The Mass in B minor, a pinnacle of the choral repertoire, comprises a compilation of movements written over a span of several years. Bach, a Lutheran, extended his initial Kyrie and Gloria from 1733 with the addition of the Catholic Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei composed during the late 1740s, finally completing the whole work a year before his death.

The music is varied with no set formula in structure, style or orchestration. This only served to highlight the technical and musical accomplishments of both the choir and the Orchestra Con Amici Barocco under the direction of conductor, Matthew Simpson.

From the beginning we heard a fine balance of voices and period instruments working together as the elegant long lines of the Kyrie gently unfolded, with conductor Simpson masterfully gauging the dynamics to give us a glimpse of the mystery and drama which was to come.

The gentle duet in the following Christe eleison provided a light contrast and was sweetly delivered by soprano Susanna Hurrell and the mellifluous mezzo, Ciara Hendrick.

From then on the movements loosely alternated between light and shade. In the Gloria the trumpets and timpani captured the bright mood whilst the textural clarity in the chorus was well-supported by the orchestra’s springy dance rhythms.

At several points the interweaving worlds of voices and instruments were enhanced as key players in the orchestra stood up to play their corresponding passages with the soloists.

Thus, we heard the orchestra’s leader Amanda Babington’s virtuosic playing with Susanna Hurrell’s florid vocal lines in a splendid rendition of the intricate duet from the Laudamus te. Also notable was Rachel Helliwell’s beautiful flute playing in the Dominus deus and again in the Benedictus where she was a fine match for tenor Thomas Hobbs’s expressive interpretation.

Reading Bach Choir captured the mood and atmosphere of each section perfectly. In Gratias agimus tibi we heard true solemnity in the opening sustained phrases. Cum sancto spiritu was delivered with great energy and the Osana displayed the dexterity of a choir who can master the most challenging repertoire, while the final Dona Nobis was choral singing at its very best.

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