Birmingham University Singers * * *
at Birmingham Cathedral
Review by David Hart
This concert showed an interesting symmetry in pairing Handel with John Joubert. Both composers came to England from abroad (Germany, South Africa) and adapted the styles of their adopted country to their own music. And both are best known for their choral music.
The obvious difference is that Handel died in 1759 and Joubert is happily still with us, this year celebrating his 80th birthday. On Saturday he was feted by Birmingham University, an institution with whom he enjoyed a 25-year association - and retired from when most of these young performers were still in the cradle.
Under the direction of Paul Rodmell Birmingham University Singers and Chamber Orchestra gave an affectionate, uplifting account of the Missa Brevis John wrote for the 1988 festival at St Alban’s Church, Highgate. It’s an exacting work to bring off well, especially for the soloists (ten on this occasion), who ranged in competence from the barely adequate to, in the case of sopranos Judith Durrant and Felicity Murphy, wonderfully secure. Generally it was a very impressive choral performance with some memorable moments, not least the finely accomplished, anguished Kyrie, a Gloria so exultant it almost danced, and the disarmingly beautiful Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
Handel’s Foundling Hospital Anthem, HWV268, a patchwork gleaned from other compositions, was something of a makeweight. But it was decently executed, with confident soloists (Hannah McFarland and Felicity Murphy’s provided the real humdinger) and rounded off the evening in rip-roaring form with a celebratory Hallelujah Chorus.