| Truro Cathedral
Music by the Bach family
|Truro Cathedral, Truro TR1 2AF, United Kingdom|
Saturday 16-Jun-12 07:30pm
Music by the Bach family
Celebrating the music of an iconic family that bridged the height of the Baroque period with the Classical era, conductor Christopher Gray and his Three Spires Singers set the evening ablaze with J.S. Bach's Magnificat and two works by the composer's prodigious children: the Sinfonia Concertante in A by J.C. Bach and C.P.E Bach's exuberant Magnificat. It was a close-knit, symmetrical programme, reflective of the mathematical architecture that is so distinguishable in the Bach clan's repertoire, beginning and ending with a striding theme that bookended the exploration of several musical ideas in the middle.
Cornwall's stunning Truro Cathedral provided an ideal venue for a traditional Baroque set-up, and Gray's guidance ensured an acute balance of acoustics for the better part of the evening, save for a few setbacks. Bursting into a vibrant opening to J.S. Bach's Magnificat, with bright chords that illuminated the rafters, the glorification of Mary's legacy was nigh for the instrumentalists, but the sopranos and altos of the chorus struggled to stay afloat amidst the fortissimos that boomed from the tenors and basses. The unbalanced dynamic hindered the upper voices' ability to articulate the rapidly running passages that required extreme technical adeptness; in a work which is so harmonically exposed, the little notes that would have made these scale runs complete were lost in a flurry of sound. While there is no question of the highly demanding vocal athleticism of the piece, the seamlessness with which it should be executed did not show itself in those first difficult moments. Fortunately, this was redeemed by the passionate fortes that are so becoming in the higher register of collective female voices, and achieved a buzzing high. Soprano soloist Harriet Jones in particular excelled marvellously, casting a resonant timbre over the lyrics and effortlessly soaring through the quicker passages with precision. She would continue to dominate the stage for the rest of the concert with her enticing presence and ability to shift between registers, as well as blend with the other singers and the ensemble as whole.
All soloists and section leaders were proficient, however. The wind section, particularly flute and oboe, brought a delicate, colourful quality to the gavotte-like sections of the work, accompanied by the deep strings and their bouncing pizzicato. Both organ (though sometimes too quiet) and harpsichord accompaniment were lyrical and atmospheric. Trumpeter Tim Carleston, multitasking as countertenor, brought majesty to the orchestra with his regal trumpet playing. His only apprehension occurred during the beginning of the concert, where his voice became overshadowed by his colleagues and the tuning ran slightly askew. But the heavenly, full-toned breadth of his range reached a height in the last work, C.P.E. Bach's Magnificat, and his interplay with Jones and later versatile tenor Nicholas Hawker – whose own range could bring any listener to rapture – was sweet and melodic. It was this last work of the programme in which one felt the hard toil of the choir blossom into being, as the dynamic structure found perfect balance and liberation in the classical style.
It left J.C. Bach's Sinfonia in the shadows, despite its grand performance by the orchestra and soloists Malcolm Latchem on violin and cellist Barbara Degener. The two musicians exhibited a delightful exchange in musical conversation with one another, and although their tuning was sometimes awkward, their timing and gestures were creative and playful.
As a member of the choir intuitively suggested, if there was ever an exemplar of the time between Baroque and Classical, then C.P.E. Bach's Magnificat would signify such a title. As interestingly varied as his father's own masterpiece, there lingered a depth and an almost Mozartian quality in the work which heralded the Age of Enlightenment, while carrying some of the beloved polyphony from the former period – a salute to his inspirational father. And perhaps it was this slightly more expansive nature which enabled bass Nick Beever to unleash his bold, Puccinian vocals across the cathedral in his usual commanding way, and the choir to express a celebration of life which only momentarily encounters adversary, but does not linger to dwell on it, instead revelling in the great things that life has to give.