Aberdeen Bach Choir
with Aberdeen Sinfonietta Leader Bryan Dargie
J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio Parts 1-4
Peter Parfitt Conductor and Musical Director
St Machar's Cathedral Sunday 8 December 2013

Jauchzet, frohlocket – Rejoice, be cheerful – the opening words of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio preceded by rousing timpani blows and stirring trumpets from Aberdeen Sinfonietta made an absolutely full house audience in St. Machar’s Cathedral sit up and be seized by the spirit of one of Aberdeen Bach Choir’s finest and most exhilarating performances yet. The choir were on top form in this marvellous opening chorus, yes, with tenors and basses too coming in joyously and forcefully with their entries. I take it for granted that the female chorus always do this anyway. In the orchestra, the strings added sizzling energy to this opening number and we knew we were in for something really special.

Tenor Daniel Joy singing from the pulpit was a fine clear-voiced Evangelist giving his biblical texts just the right ring of authority. The first soloist with her warm smooth Recitative and Aria was the alto Flora Bramwell – her lower register was quite magnificent. I liked the way that the conductor Peter Parfitt got the accompanying instrumental soloists to stand up when they were playing making them sound stronger and drawing the full attention of the audience to them. As in the St. Matthew Passion, Bach’s incredible artistry in choosing just the right instrumental textures to support the different voices was brilliantly highlighted in this performance. Let me at the very outset pick out the two amazing stalwarts of the continuo group, harpsichordist Drew Tulloch and cellist Alison MacDonald; their faultless and polished playing lay at the very heart of the success of this performance.

The second soloist was bass Colin Brockie. I hope the others will not be offended if I say that it was his absolutely glorious singing that made Sunday’s performance of the work much more than just special. For me, after the opening chorus, the very best part of the entire work is the bass aria, Großer Herr, O starker König. With the joyful sound of trumpet soloist Jennifer Gourlay, Colin gave a real masterclass of a performance. Several times later in the work he was joined by soprano Eilidh McEwan in duets which were also major highlights of the work. Eilidh also excelled in the aria Flößt Mein Heiland which was given a delicious pastoral quality by oboist Geoffrey Bridge’s careful echo effects and later Eilidh herself was echoed delightfully offstage by soprano Rhiannon Morgan.

Tenor soloist Matthew Thomas Morgan had his purple passage moment in the aria Frohe Hirten accompanied by flautist Margaret Preston with pizzicato cello and harpsichord giving the music a particularly piquant flavour. Near the end of the work, in the final aria for the alto, Bach uses a similar alluring texture using oboe instead of flute.

I have already mentioned the fine singing of the chorus at the opening of the work. They maintained the high quality of their singing in the chorales including the unaccompanied one near the beginning with the same melody as the celebrated Passion Chorale. This included the final chorale with its golden crown of sound provided by the Sinfonietta horns. A thunderous ovation from a packed Cathedral was rewarded by a repeat of the opening chorus with all the soloists joining in. If I may, I will end by quoting a line from a Hymn by Charles Wesley that sums up the whole spirit of the performance: “Rejoice, again I say, Rejoice!”.

Review contributed by Alan Cooper