Paragon Singers: Bath
Paragon Singers: Singet dem Herrn, St Alphege Church, Bath
This was a very concentrated sing: five works, sung through with just the briefest of pauses for the choir to catch its breath, and it demanded intense concentration. The opening Bach motet Der Geist hilft with its joyous opening, seemed rather light in sound, due probably to the temperature in the church: it was pretty chilly and this seemed to affect the acoustic. By the closing chorale, though, as the temperature rose – marginally – the tone filled out and the breadth of sound broadened perceptively to a very satisfying conclusion, full of confidence and poise.
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Whitacre's setting of When David heard is a remarkable musical account of this tragic story, quite different from the Tudor composers Tomkins and Weelkes, yet utterly compelling. The dark sombre opening and spiky dissonances combine sudden interjections with choral breadth, creating a vivid picture of the distraught King David mourning his murdered son Absalom. It has a raw power which the choir captured very effectively, the changes in sound quality creating utter wretchedness and sadness. A piece to be revisited.
Páº£rts An dem Wassern Zu Babel for three soloists, Jane Hunt (soprano), Rupert Bevan (tenor) and Phil Brotheridge (baritone) and choir, has the composer's deceptively simple vocal line, with a very telling organ part, played with studied economy by Steven Hollas. It has considerable dramatic force, combining with desolate bleakness of the Jewish exile to Babylon, with a spiritual quality that informed this performance very strongly. The sudden ending was starkly abrupt.
Byrd's Infelix ego, sung molto lamentoso, showed us the composer at his best – well-nigh incomparable. His polyphony has a depth and richness few can match, as it moves irresistibly forward to its climax. It is immensely satisfying to sing and to hear and this was a beautifully balanced rendering, everything in its place, leaving a feeling of deep pleasure, as the final Miserere Mei died away in this exemplary acoustic.
Finally, Bach again, Singet dem Herrn, full of jubilant good humour, surging forward with seemingly unstoppable momentum. I particularly enjoyed the second movement chorale, in which the two choirs move together, yet separately, each responding to the other in splendid full-bodied style. And the final Hallelujah came over with a lilting ebullience which raised the spirits and warmed our chilly hearts. It was, as we have come to expect, a very felicitous bringing together of joy and sadness, marked by some fine controlled, disciplined, yet expressively and emotionally satisfying singing, under Keith Bennett's unobtrusively vigorous direction.
Peter Lloyd Williams