Bath Choral Society: Bath Abbey
Bath Choral Society with Southern Sinfonia
What an intriguing combination of the old and the new, the very familiar with the virtually unknown. And how very sensible to sing the MacMillan Seven Last Words first.
I was surprised, not only to discover that it was written nearly 20 years ago but at its tremendous musical and dramatic impact. It is too seldom performed, partly because of its particular association with the season of Lent: and because it is far from easy to perform.
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MacMillan's unique fusion of discord, plainchant and melody, allied to its rhythmic complexity, is a testing sing, and the choir gave an extremely committed satisfying rendering.
Macmillan is well-known as a committed Roman Catholic – he is a Lay Dominican – and the horror and tragedy of the events he describes is palpable.
He invites us to share in the agony of Good Friday and the dissonant cadences were magnificently portrayed by some very fine singing.
"I thirst" had tremendous raw power and intensity with its tremolo strings and the bass introduction. My throat was dry and the feeling of total desolation was remarkably conveyed. The final "Father into Thy hands" with its full choral sound and urgent lower strings left the powerful feeling of sorrow and loss.
A quite remarkable musical experience which had emotional intensity and depth of feeling, including some fine singing from soloists in the choir. Conductor Will Dawes made a brave decision to sing it which was totally justified in this most fulfilling performance of an extraordinary work. The orchestral playing by Southern Sinfonia was superb, enhancing the sound and providing not just background, but trenchant and spiky, giving vivid colour and striking pungency.
Faure's Requiem remains a firm choral favourite. It always will. Its serene beauty and memorable choruses are an essential element in the choral repertoire, and this was a tender loving performance, eyes on the conductor – of course, the choir knows it well – with the dynamic shading and in particular the tempi, absolutely right.
We had a lovely Pie Jesu from soprano Eloise Irving, sung without a score, crystal clear, soaring up into the roof. And baritone Michael Hickman sang the Hostias and Libera Me. We all luxuriated in the final In Paradisum, beautifully sung with Peter King's organ accompaniment and the orchestra completing a musical delight. Perhaps there's hope for us after all.
Peter Lloyd Williams