Bach, Copland and Britten

After Bach’s motet Komm, Jesu, komm the choir formation was changed and, with this, came a transformation in the sound. Copland’s In the Beginning is a magnificent setting of the Genesis Creation story for mezzo solo, chorus and piano. Beth Mackay’s unaccompanied introduction, rich and powerful, led into a remarkable combination of solo and chorus, urgent, dramatic, the writing alternately spare, as in the piano chords introducing the sections; and elegantly complex, the eight-part harmonies vivid and warm.

The singing was a revelation, the dynamic balance satisfying and intense, contrasting with the warm resonant solo voice to bring out the full range of sound, building to an exultant climax. Nigel Perrin’s reading of the work and the resulting performance had real excitement: and the comment during the interval was “why haven’t we heard this before?” Copland at his most original and inventive.

Widor’s Cantabile and Final from the Organ Symphony No. 6 showed us his capacity for combining quiet mystery with a massive display of power and fortissimo, ideally suited to the Klais organ and played with virtuoso excellence by Marcus Sealy.

Britten’s Saint Nicolas tells the story of the saint’s life in a series of episodes scored for tenor and treble solo, choir, strings, organ and piano. Nathan Vale’s clear vibrant tenor links the work, a role similar to the evangelist in Bach; and Finn Lacey gave a confident and convincing performance as the boy Nicolas.

There is some quite complex choral writing, sung with sensitivity and commitment, particularly in the final Nunc Dimittis, legato and peaceful, with a lovely tenor solo line, before the final hymn, God moves in a mysterious way, in which the audience joined. Nick Thorne and Jamie Knights played the piano, Marcus Sealy the organ; Lorna Osborn led the string ensemble, and Nigel Perrin’s intuitive grasp of the structure of the work gave this performance authentic and dramatic integrity.

Peter Lloyd Williams

©Peter Lloyd Williams Bath Chronicle 5 November 2012