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POST REVIEWS Soothing balm on searing emotion; Voices in the City Symphony Hall.

Birmingham' unique choral festival, Voices in the City is certainly full of variety. Saturday's double bill - Verdi's Requiem and Ex-Cathedra a cappella - was an inspired concept: one and a half hours of searing emotion followed by 40 minutes of soothing balm.

Sir Edward Downes marshalled his forces for the Verdi with disciplined aplomb, acknowledging the work's theatrical undertow without indulging in histrionic excess or flailing gestures. Indeed his beat at the start of the Dies Irae was virtually invisible from behind.

Such firm control, though admirable at keeping things aloft during the occasional longueur, did suggest a reluctance to wallow in musical beauty for its own sake. Admirable in every technical respect, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales should have sound ed much more voluptuous; and the combined BBC National Chorus of Wales and Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh (both wonderfully well drilled) thrilled in the climaxes but lacked a true choral euphony for the quietest passages. Nina Rautio, Sally Burgess, De nnis O'Neill and John Thomlinson made a finely matched quartet of soloists individually and in ensemble. Burgess' Lux Aeterna was especially lovely, with a gloriously floated heady pianissimo, while Thomlinson's voice of doom utterances had all the neces sary stentorian qualities. O'Neill's Ingemisco was in truth a bit so-so indicating, as elsewhere, that this usually superb tenor was not in perfect vocal condition. Rautio's biggest moment came at the end, with a sublimely beautiful libera me .

After such high-octane drama Ex-Cathedra's late night free concert was a most welcome contrast: a sequence of unaccompanied sacred music from the 9th century Veni Sancte Spiritus to Thomas Jennefelt's O Salutaris Hostia, commissioned last year by Jeffrey Skidmore and a worthy addition to the choir's repertory.

Described as a "panorama of beautiful choral music" it was a perfect musical epilogue. Not even Stainer seemed out of place in this company, although it was Barber's Agnus Dei which lingered most memorably. Bliss indeed.

David Hart
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Author:Hart, David
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 13, 1998
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