Christopher Morley sings the praises of our region’s choirs as he looks at the season ahead.
We are entering a busy time for choral societies in the region, with last weekend seeing concerts from the Kidderminster Choral Society as well as the University of Birmingham Choir (see reviews, pages 8-9), and this weekend experiencing a huge burst of activity.
It begins tonight (Thursday) at the high-Gothic Victorian church of St Alban the Martyr in Highgate, just outside Birmingham city centre, when Jeffrey Skidmore conducts an historically-informed performance of works by the favourite composer of Louis XIV, Michel-Richard de Lalande.
Skidmore has explored this fascinating composer with his own Ex Cathedra, transferring the results of his researches tonight to the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir and Capelle Baroque Orchestra.
Tomorrow night (Friday) Birmingham Festival Choral Society begins a mini-residency at Edgbaston High School (next to the Botanical Gardens in Westbourne Road), when Patrick Larley conducts Peace in our Time.
The programme features works by the late David Fanshawe (Pacific Song receiving its Birmingham premiere) and John Rutter Mass of the Children.
The concert is repeated on Saturday, when in fact there’s a bonanza of choral concertising. Paul Spicer conducts the Birmingham Bach Choir and the resident Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall in a programme of Beethoven’s Mass in C major and Haydn’s glorious Harmoniemesse (wonderful writing to entice woodwind enthusiasts).
On Saturday night in Worcester Cathedral meanwhile, the Worcester Festival Choral Society performs an enticing all-British programme of choral music.
Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast is the highlight of the evening, which also includes Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet and Elgar’s Sea Pictures, Catherine King the mezzo-soprano soloist. Adrian Lucas conducts, and he and the Chameleon Arts Orchestra also give a rare hearing to Elgar’s late Pomp and Circumstance March no.5.
Looking ahead to next Saturday (April 9) in Worcester Cathedral, Malcolm Goldring conducts the Worcestershire Young Singers and the English Symphony Orchestra for an evening culminating in the moving Requiem by Mozart. Stourbridge-born tenor Nathan Vale is among the soloists, and the concert also includes Mozart’s Symphony no.39 in E-flat K543, and Bob Chilcott’s Jubilate.
The same evening Harry Christophers brings his renowned choral group The Sixteen (though the actual numbers are a moveable feast) to Birmingham’s Oratory on the Hagley Road for the latest staging-post in The Sixteen’s 11th annual pilgrimage, this year marking the 400th anniversary of the death of the great Spanish renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria, pupil of Palestrina.
“Hail, Mother of the Redeemer” is the programme’s title, and the CD of the same name has already reached number nine in the classical recordings chart.
Soon after this we are into Eastertide, and the traditional Good Friday afternoon performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion at Symphony Hall.
In the early years of the venue’s existence the London Bach Choir did the honours. Later the Birmingham Bach Choir took up the baton for several years, and now the current holders of the honour of presenting this awesome masterpiece are the Midlands-based chamber chorus Ex Cathedra.
Jeffrey Skidmore conducts the choir he formed more than 40 years ago, joined by the Ex Cathedra Baroque Orchestra, and a line-up of soloists featuring the much-admired baritone Eamonn Dougan as Christus.
There is an extended tea-interval during this concert, which is estimated to finish at 5pm.
Looking beyond Easter, there is a heads-up for what looks like a really interesting period for the City of Birmingham Choir.
On April 30 their conductor Adrian Lucas takes them to his home base of Worcester Cathedral, where he is organist and choirmaster, for a performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor.
Then back at Symphony Hall in Birmingham on May 21 the City Choir swaps conductors, CBSO associate conductor Michael Seal mounting the podium for what promises to be a prestigious concert for talented young Birmingham musicians.
The Birmingham Schools’ Symphony Orchestra is entrusted with the orchestral collaboration, and the Birmingham Music Service Children’s Chorale adds its expertise for a performance of Carl Orff’s glittering Carmina Burana. Respighi’s mighty tone-poem The Pines of Rome opens the programme, and will prove a testing taster for these talented youngsters.
* Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir performs at St Alban’s Church, Highgate tonight (7.30pm). Details on 0121 245 4455.
* Birmingham Festival Choral Society performs at Edgbaston High School tomorrow and Saturday (7.30pm). Details on 0121 249 3335.
* Birmingham Bach Choir performs Beethoven and Haydn at Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday (7.30pm). Details on 0121 780 3333.
* Also on Saturday Worcester Festival Choral Society sings an all-British programme at Worcester Cathedral (7.30pm). Details on 01684 892277.
* Worcestershire Young Singers the Mozart Requiem in Worcester Cathedral on April 9 (7.30pm). Details on 01684 892277.
* The Sixteen’s Victoria programme at the Birmingham Oratory on April 9 begins at 7.30pm. Details on 01904 651 485.
* Ex Cathedra’s Good Friday performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion at Symphony Hall begins at Symphony Hall at 2pm. Details on 0121 780 3333.
* The City of Birmingham Choir sings at Worcester Cathedral on April 30 (7.30pm). Details on 01684 892277.
* The City of Birmingham Choir returns to Symphony Hall on May 21 (7.30pm). Details on 0121 780 3333.