Birmingham Bach Choir
St Paul’s Church - 1st April 2023
I thought I had arrived in good time for an earlier-than-usual 7.00pm start for Birmingham Bach Choir’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, but I had to join a long queue of people outside, also eager to hear a rare performance – maybe the first one in Birmingham - and St Paul’s church was packed when I took my seat.
It is a tough ask for a choir to perform such a lengthy unaccompanied work, but this fine ensemble was clearly able to carry it off with aplomb, evident even from the very first Amen. Conductor Paul Spicer announced before the start that sadly the bass soloist had succumbed to Covid. However, tenor Graham Stroud agreed to sing both tenor and bass roles, and as soon as he sang the opening chant we knew he was more than up to the task. Soprano soloist Corinna Gregory soared beautifully above the choir in the exquisite twelfth movement.
But what was most impressive to the listener was how the female voices moved up and down in semitones in perfect harmony, and how the basses had no issues with singing so very many extremely low notes. The crescendos and diminuendos throughout the work were wonderfully executed. Spicer had obviously drilled the choir well, and to excellent effect.
When first performed in 1910, the Moscow Synodal School said that this work was not suitable for church use “……absolutely wonderful, even too beautiful, but with such music it would be difficult to pray; it is not church music.” Well, they were wrong: it is suitable, and St Paul’s Church was the best place to hear it.