Advent Oratorio, at Lichfield Cathedral
We all joined in choir practice at Lichfield Cathedral on Saturday evening, as conductor Philip Scriven genially rehearsed us in the audience hymns which are such an integral part of Paul Spicer’s Advent Oratorio, which he was about to premiere.
And this congregation participation is as vital an element as it is in several of Britten’s works, and as implied by the chorales in Bach’s Passions and the spirituals in Tippett’s Child of our Time.
The first and second coming of the Messiah involves us all, and Spicer makes us continually aware of this in the urgently dramatic, occasionally reflective, unfolding of this worthy successor to his Easter Oratorio of 2000.
Its musical language is as effective and direct as that of Spicer’s two great idols, Finzi and Howells, and holds no terrors for performer or listener
Bishop Tom Wright’s libretto draws from a wide range of biblical sources, but expresses so much in throat-grabbing, colloquial terms, and the singers – the remarkable Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir (celebrating its 50th anniversary), Lichfield Cathedral choristers, soloists Natalie Clifton-Griffith, Ed Lyon, William Berger, supported by the resourceful and alert St Chad’s Camerata – delivered its message with committed engagement.
In this performance there were perhaps too many pauses between sections, where more of a sense of flow would have enhanced the drama, and balances were not always ideal.
But the big climactic moments were persuasively handled by Scriven, and the standing ovation at the end was among the very few I’ve been happy to join.