Birmingham Choral Union, St Pauls, Hockley - by Christopher Morley
Birmingham Choral Union is a choir which exudes enthusiasm. Their demeanour is friendly, they obviously love their shared music-making, they perform a variety of content in a variety of venues, and they shrewdly mine not just the old favourites of the repertoire, but also some little-known nuggets.
Saturday's offerings in this welcoming and appropriate Jewellery Quarter venue were typical of the programming conductor Colin Baines conjures up. Here we heard little-known but eminently functional works by Mendelssohn (his Lutheran Mass) and Dvorak (his Mass in D), and the Birmingham connections of this duo were resonant in this church built long before they were born.
The Mendelssohn is actually a compilation of bits and pieces from various periods in his short but intensely productive career; here we heard midway a well-registrated, acutely-phrased performance of his Prelude and Fugue in C minor for organ from the dependable and musicianly Darren Hogg. The Dvorak is a heartwarming example of Gebrauchsmusik, gently attuned to the pastoral setting of the country church for which it was commissioned, but in fact somewhat monotonous in its textures.
Performances from the BCU were willing and smiling. Diction was assiduous, and in full-blown tutti sections the sonority was quite thrilling.
Here comes the regretful "but". Many choral societies have problems finding tenors, but the handful here at BCU really do need to meld themselves into a cogent timbre; their many exposed entries were nowhere close to what the composers intended.
Next, does there really need to be so much sitting-down between movements, some of them short and scarcely physically taxing?
But, most significantly, this choir needs to learn how to listen, not only to other singers, but also to the organ, which is there to keep them in tune. All too often harmonies were cloudy, and pitch was seriously at odds with the supporting instrument.