Birmingham Bach Choir bringing Bach’s great Mass in B minor back to Birmingham Town Hall after its magnificent restoration should have been an occasion for celebration, but unfortunately too many niggles in Saturday’s performance pooped the party.
Everything was in place: a lithe, willing, well-drilled choir, an adept “period-performance” orchestra in the Brandenburg Baroque Soloists, and a young quartet of solo singers grateful for the chance to display their skills to a packed house in the historic venue.
But unfortunately it didn’t quite come off, partly perhaps due to sheer unfamiliarity with the refurbished acoustics of this wonderful room.
Choral attack on the initial, desperate cry of “Kyrie” was weak, and more incisiveness would have been welcome elsewhere, including at “Cum Sancto Spiritu” concluding the Gloria.
This choir can make fabulous sounds, but bass sonorities tended to disappear on low notes, Bach’s crucial plainchant interventions were coarsely delivered, and, surprisingly for this experienced choir, individual timbres obtruded in unison vocal lines.
Paul Spicer’s conducting of this taut, tight work (for all it wasn’t composed as an entity, but assembled from earlier pieces) veered between the flowing and the halting, when logistics for the soloists necessitated a pause between movements, something which could have been more smoothly handled.
Among the soloists, counter-tenor Christopher Ainslie was movingly eloquent. One wondered how much some of the others understood the significance of the texts they were singing, and how they felt about their balance with Spicer’s well-judged orchestral accompaniments.
And the orchestra was a curate’s egg of a band. Some contributions were obtrusive instead of complementary, others, not least the pastel flutes, brought Bach’s vision movingly to life.