Paragon Singers: St Alphege, Bath
The Church of St Alphege, Bath
There is much to be said for singing a programme through without an often extended interval, with just the briefest of breaks for legs to be stretched and choir throats to be cleared.
And this programme of three masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque music was a celebration of delights.
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The 16th century composer Lassus' setting of Lagrime di San Pietro, sung a capella, is a classic of intricate counterpoint. Taken quite briskly, as if St Peter is saying – yes, I'm sorry, but please I don't want to dwell on it. Written in the minor key, it has a touch of melancholy but without being excessively dolorous. Yet the words and the musical setting are very telling in their detail, controlled and beautifully balanced. Bach's Jesu meine Freude needs no introduction. It is arguably his greatest motet, the writing complex, yet with a simple melody, around which he weaves a musical web of astonishingly rich textures and colours.
After a minor difference of tune between Steven Hollas on the organ and the voices, early on, this was a really authentic performance, the tempi finely judged, and the ensemble clear and crisp, with a strong, robust finale ending in the joyful tierce de picardie.
The final Scarlatti setting of the Stabat Mater was a revelation.
It describes Mary at the foot of the cross, yet without lingering over her grief. The agony of Christ is evoked with astonishingly complex harmonic progression, yet without a trace of sentimentality and the contrasting tempi are immensely poignant.
The final slow legato Quando corpus suddenly erupts into a quick, lively affirmation of the joy of Paradise, sung with tremendous verve and blazing with life.
It was a performance full of warmth and life, but expressively sorrowful too. A splendid work, musically complex, recreated with sumptuous velvety singing, finishing on a note of joyful triumph. It was a very satisfactory night of musical excellence for conductor Keith Bennett and his talented singers.
Peter Lloyd Williams