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Review: Three University Choirs at Elgar Concert Hall in University of Birmingham

Maggie Cotton reviews the Three University Choirs at the Elgar Concert Hall in the University of Birmingham.

Three University Choirs at Elgar Concert Hall in University of Birmingham
*****

Being handed screeds of programme notes for this evening was somewhat daunting, however one persevered, eventually listening to some very fine performances from In part one was The Binchois Consort: six voices initially introduced by conductor Andrew Kirkman to set a 15th century scene. The unfamiliar Latin text challenging to assimilate with English translation, but nevertheless mesmerising fine singing from six male participants: alto to rich bass. Easter sequences to the fore with some original French texts, as the larger Birmingham University Singers consequently absorbed the Consort into their midst.

There was a change of mood and century in part two with Whitacre’s Five Hebrew Love Songs, enhanced by emotive violins/piano. There was fine characterisation from the University Women’s Choir also in subsequent Brahms songs. Accompanying horns were sensitive but the beautifully flowing harp was occasionally overwhelmed by the full choir. Fingal’s Song was far too bland. One doubts if the participants had had time to appreciate the full horror of the translation prior to performance.

What followed was David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion. According to the composer "A kind of parable; a religious allegory inspired by J.S.Bach."

This heart-stopping story is told with captivating music: magical chanting, wonderful mysterious echo-effects, endless repetition with highlights from soloists telling the moving tale of the doomed child. Lang also uses quiet interspersed percussion instruments played by the singers. The main nightmare for the performers is to make sure that they know where they are in endless repetitions and stop together without any overlaps. An impressive performance conducted by Simon Halsey.

 
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