Birmingham Bach Choir
St Paul’s Church , Hockley– 18th November 2023
Opening a splendid concert by the Birmingham Bach Choir, appropriately billed as containing radiant choral masterpieces, was JS Bach’s joyous short motet Furchte dich nicht, reputedly composed for a funeral in 1726. This is a work which is notoriously difficult to interpret and execute successfully, but on this occasion the piece was authoritatively yet sensitively directed by conductor Paul Spicer, with the choir giving an assured performance which impressed me. Set for double chorus, there are plenty of vocal challenges, which were well met by the choir, with both halves of the choir complimenting each other perfectly, coming together beautifully for the three-part fugue chorale.
With twice as many sopranos and altos than tenors and basses, I felt that the male voices sometimes struggled to be heard in Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater, despite the sopranos being divided into 4 parts. An impressive work in a total of 10 parts, and sung without a break, Scarlatti’s florid choral writing is spectacularly realised towards the end in Inflammatus, leading into a lively fugue before possibly one of the longest Amens ever! Despite some occasional lapses in intonation, this challenging work was well executed by the choir.
For me though, Liszt’s Missa Choralis was the highlight of the evening. This excellent chamber choir has a knack of coming together perfectly for larger works, and this performance was not only impressive but also quite moving. In-house soloists more than did justice to their parts, and there was sympathetic organ accompaniment from Martyn Rawles. It was a stroke of genius to add Bach’s Chorale Prelude Schmucke Dich three quarters of the way through. Possibly the most famous of the Great 18 Chorale Preludes Bach composed whilst in Weimar, this gave Rawles the opportunity to show us not only his exceptional talent as an organist, but also what a superb instrument St Paul’s has in this old part of Birmingham.