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CULTURE: Vocal surprises from little-known Bach by-ways; CLASSICAL REVIEWS Birmingham Bach Choir Birmingham Cathedral.

Byline: Christopher Morley

It is unlikely you would ever find any Bach Choir in the country performing catchpenny crowd-pleasers such as Carmina Burana and African Sanctus.

Instead, when not performing great canonical masterpieces, they will be busy exploring lesser-known byways which help create the context for such staples, and this is exactly what Birmingham Bach Choir did on Saturday.

Bach Through Time proved an enthralling programme, setting some of the great Johann Sebastian's motets among those, often with similar texts, of his immediate ancestors in the hugely influential Bach family. It threw up some fascinating surprises.

Frchtet euch nicht by first cousin once removed and father-in-law Johann Michael was almost mischievously madrigalian, gleefully delivered by the BBC under Paul Spicer's smiling direction, before more seemly gravity set in.

JM's brother Johann Christoph gave his Frchte dich nicht a vivid, dramatic setting, full of theatrical contrasts and with stunning tex-tural gestures.

And then came Johann Sebastian's great treatment of the verses, huge in its harmonic implications and beautifully-wrought in its textures. In this strenuous programme, notes occasionally lacked focus from these stalwart choristers, and Spicer could have allowed more sense of settlement upon structural key chords. But balances were beautifully judged, the chorale melody floating above busy figurations, and Stuart Nicholson provided discreet and appropriate organ support.

Nicholson also gave the singers respite with a couple of well-articulated JS Bach organ solos amidst these rewarding offerings, not least before the spectacular finale which was JSB's Singet dem Herrn, the choir delivering this double-chorus piece with great reserves of power, commanding impressive strength when the choruses eventually united, and with the sopranos tossing off a superb top B-flat at the end.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 26, 2006
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