Strange, perhaps, to begin a review of a choral concert with praise for the orchestra, but the sheer crispness and elan of the London Baroque Sinfonia set the tone for an enrichingly confident performance from the Birmingham Bach Choir.
Paul Spicer’s easy, relaxed conducting comes from a background of assiduous rehearsal and instinctive trust in the musicianship of his forces, and the results are exhilarating.
Bach cantatas introduced each half, “Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft” somewhat thin in exposed lines but sonorous in chording, “Der Himmel lacht!” offering little choral fodder but revealing the talents of obbligato oboist Gail Hennessy, whose solos made such an important contribution to the entire programme.
We heard two major works. Handel’s early, Italianate Dixit Dominus was given with sprightly tempi, pungent articulation from the choir, and with a huge degree of dynamic subtlety under Spicer’s persuasive direction.
And we ended with a Bach masterpiece, the Magnificat, terse, concise, and brimming with character to which Spicer’s choristers responded idiomatically. The quintet of soloists was never less than efficient, and some took their opportunities to soar.
Outstanding were tenor Julian Gregory, his Deposuit ringing with virtuosic venom, and baritone (surely he is becoming more of a bass?) Tristan Hambleton, who throughout the evening encompassed Bach’s gymnastic demands with consummate aplomb.
Add to all this the gracious welcome from Cathedral Dean Catherine Ogle, and this proved indeed a wonderful evening dedicated to the memory of Stanley Sellers, a great supporter of the Birmingham Bach Choir, and a fitting celebration of this elegant building’s tercentenary.