La Sposalizio 29 April 2018 - Review

Aberdeen Bach Choir’s Spring Concert this year was surely their most spectacular performance ever. It was absolutely sensational. The choir were supported by the four cornetts and six sagbutts of His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, a world-leading, historic brass ensemble that celebrated its 35th birthday last year. They were fabulous.

The choir were also supported by a marvellous keyboardist David Gerrard playing both chamber organ and harpsichord. When I saw that there was also a theorbo, a large lute with an extended neck, I said to the ladies who came with me to the concert, ‘The theorbo looks absolutely fantastic, but you won’t be able to hear it, especially with the choir and the brass in full cry’. Well, I was completely wrong. Played by James Bramley the theorbo had two solo spots in the concert, both by Giovanni Kapsberger, the first delicate and beautifully steadily played, the other, Toccata Arpeggiata, living up to its title perfectly. However to my surprise, I could hear the instrument in every one of the items in which it was played. Often almost subliminal, nevertheless it managed to tickle the ears most delightfully.

Keyboardist David Gerrard also had two solo spots. The first was a Toccata for harpsichord, delicate, free-flowing, wonderfully ornate and playful too. The second was for organ with a single cornett played from the high platform at the side of the Cathedral by Helen Roberts. It made the music seem to be coming from heaven on high.

The brass players had three Canzons all by Giovanni Gabrieli in the first half of the concert in which the instrumental groups exploited antiphonal separation, especially in the Canzona Duodecima Toni 1 á 10 in which upper instruments were on the left, lower ones on the right as we looked at them. In the second part of the concert, a musical reconstruction of the service held in the Church of San Nicolò, Lido, the brass had two highly contrasting solos. The first, Canzon XII à 8 by Giovanni Gabrieli was jaunty and celebratory, dare I say almost jazzy (although it could not really be that), with the two groups of instruments calling to one another. The second by Giovanni’s uncle, Andrea Gabrieli, O Sacrum Convivium for a smaller group was slow, serious, slightly dark but very beautiful. All of these items could hardly have been bettered.

The concert itself began with a recording of church bells. Were they from Venice? I don’t know, but they certainly created a special atmosphere. An instrumental Fanfare from the rear of the Cathedral including the natural trumpet played by Darren Moore set the seal on what was to follow.

There were thirteen choral items over the two parts of the concert all of them absolutely superb and each worthy of several paragraphs but this review is already becoming too long.

Let me set the overall tone of the Bach Choir’s performance. The singing was superbly clean and clear throughout. The choral polyphony worked splendidly with the splitting of the choir into different groups, sometimes three choirs and once even four, working to create the clarity required for this music – clever Peter Parfitt! The antiphonal effects created by the different choirs across the  space of the Cathedral worked splendidly and Peter Parfitt was always on top of the different groups leading and encouraging them. Congratulations to Conducting Scholar Tobias Wolf as well for the two sections that Peter Parfitt generously allowed him to direct.

Let me conclude by picking out one or two of what I thought were the special highlights of the choral performance. In Alla Battaglia by Andrea Gabrieli, to my astonishment, everything, but everything, came through with astonishing clarity, the brass, the organ, yes, even the theorbo and every section of eight choral parts. That should not have been possible, but it happened – a kind of miracle really! The finale to the first part of the concert, Udite, Chiari et Generosi Figli was as the programme note promised ‘bold and proud’.

In the second half of the concert, the gradual growth and crescendo of the Kyrie was superbly well done. Beatus Vir by Monteverdi, a really well-known and popular piece with the two cornetts and sagbutts and the six part choir could not have been bettered.

The Sanctus and Benedictus and above all the final Jubilate Deo – enough almost to raise the dead and set them rejoicing. It certainly made me feel a lot better than I have felt for a long time. Thank-you Bach Choir.    

Alan Cooper