City of Birmingham Choir * * * *
at Symphony Hall
Review by John Gough

As we celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth it’s difficult to keep Mozart out the concert hall – even when the music performed is by Handel.

This was Mozart’s "up to date" version of the Messiah, up to date for 1789 that is, when the ever-penurious composer accepted a commission to revise the score.

The biggest difference is in the prominence of the wind band which includes Mozart’s beloved clarinet.He even gives the most elaborate accompanying flourishes in The trumpet shall sound not to the trumpet but to the horn

A case of Amadeus gilding the lily perhaps?

If there were any major changes to the choral part they did not trouble the City of Birmingham Choir, who were in fine, hearty and fulsome voice: nimble in All we like sheep, vehement in All they that see him laugh him to scorn and stirring in the Hallelujah chorus – which was well worth its spontaneous round of applause.

They were aided by crisp and alert playing from a chamber orchestra-sized CBSO.

Conductor Adrian Lucas emphasized the lyrical elements of the score, occasionally at the expense of the drama, but his flowing tempi ensured that there were no dull stretches in this long work.

The young quartet of soloists was tentative at first, the tenor and bass executed Handel’s florid vocal lines very awkwardly.

But all gained in confidence and vocal security in the latter stages of the performance.

The soprano Katrina Broderick, still a second year student at music college, was outstanding.

Her sweet, bright voice, combined with excellent diction, made I know that my redeemer liveth a moving testament of faith.

Repeated tomorrow at 7.30pm

Norman Stinchcombe

Direct and passionate performance Christmas in Venice

Ex Cathedra Choir

His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts Birmingham Oratory HHHH It’s difficult to keep superlatives out of any discussion about Ex Cathedra.

Here was another exciting concert which combined scholarly research with direct and passionate performances, a shining example of imaginative musicianship in action.

Featuring polychoral works by Gabrieli, Monteverdi and others, as performed in the lavish Christmas celebrations in St Mark’s in Venice, this was a celebration of the repertoire associated with "the floating city" (I gather it has almost as many canals as Birmingham), based on the Vigil of Christmas at Vespers as set out in sources in the Venetian State Archive.

Jeffrey Skidmore coaxed his formidable forces, augmented by organ, theorbo and the virtuoso wind group ‘His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts’ through some familiar and much unfamiliar but fascinating music.

The shape of the evening had a natural ebb and flow, the many colours constantly varied to preserve our interest, building to a climactic finale for each half.

Gabrieli's sense of timbre and spatial layout made his works the most powerful in their impact, and there was some use of the church for antiphonal effects, but the design of the Oratory, although providing an appropriate ambience, did not permit the variety of opportunities of St Marks.

Highlights of the night were Schutz’ setting of Hodie Christus natus est for two voices (with the two soloists’ ever more elaborate lines outdoing each other in feats of intonation and rhythm), Scheidt’s In dulci jubilo in ten parts, and the final Gabrieli setting of the Magnificat.

Its sections of continually increasing texture and tension, the warmth of the sackbuts, the constantly varying choral effects and the superb intonation and clarity of the top lines of cornetts and sopranos produced an effect of irresistible splendour.

John Gough