From Darkness to Light

Saturday 15 November 2014   7.30pm   Bath Abbey
Marion Wood: Futility (Poem by Wilfred Owen)
Henry Purcell : Funeral Sentences
Jonathan Willcocks: From Darkness to Light (First UK performance)
Eric Whitacre: When David heard that Absalom was slain
Howard Goodall: Lacrymosa (from Eternal Light)
Leonard Bernstein: Chichester Psalms

From the dreadfully tacky pop set at the Royal Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance to the somewhat more dignified laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph in London the nation has found ways of marking the beginning of the First World War and honouring those who died in conflicts since then.

So, bearing in mind their offering would be some days after that, but had to be planned long before it, how could Bath’s premier choir, the City of Bath Bach Choir, mark that? Well, they found a novel way: with no xenophobia, no National Anthem, no pomp or circumstantial outpourings - although there was a hint of the Last Post - they mounted an epic programme, From Darkness to Light. With the amazingly mature Wells Cathedral School Brass and Percussion Ensemble - where, of course, choir architect and conductor Nigel Perrin teaches - their programme presented, but by no means glorified, the voices of war, through the words of many poets of the day, and hailed the thoughts of reconciliation. And there could not have been anything in that vein better than Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. It is fiendishly complicated, difficult; and required the learning, albeit phonetically, of Hebrew. They should be proud of their achievement.

The evening was an immensely thought-provoking, a respectful dialogue; almost subdued: any sentiment was self-induced; similarly the futility of it all. And all the time this choir, so well balanced, so disciplined, sang almost humbly, bringing pathos, hope, redemption: All the emotions, all the tones and textures as if an orchestra.

Marcus Sealy used the organ as an equally integral part, and added so much stridency in the Bernstein; Lydia Ward, alto, had just the right plaintive timbre and though I thought he could have been a little more authoritative, baritone Daniel Robson was note-sure.

Good concerts send you home with the hit tune ringing in your ears. But the words My son, my son, my son from Eric Whitacre’s When David Heard, from the Book of Samuel, sung so poignantly, so quietly so that eventually they were spoken, was quite spell binding. And long lasting.

Reg Burnard

 

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