Past Reviews (2008-2019)

Paul Hale Farewell Concert

St Mary’s Church, Lacemarket

Saturday 22 June 2019

By William Ruff

An era has ended: Paul Hale conducted his final Bach Choir concert on Saturday.  By rights he should have broken his baton in two and there should have been a loud clap of thunder.  Instead he very elegantly passed it on to his successor, Peter Siepmann.

 

Saturday’s programme summed up a man equally at home on the podium and in the organ loft.  Haydn’s Little Organ Mass came first, the essence of all those masses of Masses which he must have conducted over the years.  The work brims over with energy and to this Paul Hale added elegance, insightful phrasing and much care with diction.  The Choir and the accompanying NBC String Quintet responded with brightness of tone and obvious enjoyment.

 

Not surprisingly Bach featured: his Singet dem Herrn got off to a nicely zingy start and showed off the Choir’s accuracy, agility and ability to keep textures transparent.  Bach’s music is extremely testing for the singers, a fact not lost on the audience which clearly appreciated the way the Choir coped with the motet’s constant changes of tempo, dynamics and mood.

 

In the second half baritone Stephen Cooper was the eloquently intelligent soloist in Vaughan Williams’s setting of George Herbert’s poems, Five Mystical Songs.  The music travels from exultation to triumph via moments of visionary stillness, the balance and rapport between soloist and Choir always impressive.

 

As well as an uplifting performance of Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens, the concert also featured Paul Hale as organist: first in duet with Peter Siepmann, playing rarely heard music by Samuel Wesley and then his solo performance of Franck’s Choral No 3, its tender central section particularly lovely.  It all added up to a joyous celebration of one man’s contribution to Nottingham’s musical life for the last three decades. 

Edward Elgar The Apostles

St Mary’s Church, Lacemarket, Nottingham

Saturday 24th November 2018    7.30pm

 

Paul Hale Conductor

Philippa Boyle  Soprano

Jessica Gillingwater  Mezzo soprano

Timothy Langston Tenor

Stephen Cooper Baritone

Marcus Farnsworth Baritone

Julian Empett  Bass

 

Review by William Ruff

https://reviewsgate.com/nottingham-bach-choir-st-marys-church-4-william-ruff/

An Elgar oratorio with plenty of Wagnerian intensity

If you’re not religious (and even if you are) it could have been a bit daunting to open the Nottingham Bach Choir’s programme for Elgar’s The Apostles and see the nine pages of words which Elgar set to music.  Elgar’s fervent commitment to his faith leaps off the pages before a note is sounded.  And there’s the cast list too: Jesus, Apostles (of course), Mary Magdalene plus an Angel and Mystic Chorus.

Once the work starts, however, the effect is quite different.  This is Elgar’s Wagner opera, its music thrilling for believers and non-believers alike, its network of leitmotivs worming their way into the listener’s subconscious, ensuring that each of its many episodes has its own vividly portrayed atmosphere.

Take for instance how the Nottingham Bach Choir and Players handled the Prologue, seizing the attention with a grandly dignified richness of sound, laying before the audience with judiciously paced clarity some of the oratorio’s major themes: the ‘Man of Sorrows’, the Gospel and the foundation of the Church.

There was much razor-sharp detail amongst the finely drawn scenes, such as the sounding of the shofar, the Jewish ritual trumpet, as dawn breaks and the sun rises on the morning prayers in the temple.

And there was much drama in the depiction of character.  Marcus Farnsworth (as Jesus) and all the other soloists (Philippa Boyle, Jessica Gillingwater, Timothy Langston, Stephen Cooper and Julian Empett) brought not only fine voices but also much operatic intensity to their roles.

The final scene illustrated just how carefully conductor Paul Hale had prepared choir, orchestra and soloists for this performance.  The Apostles look up to Heaven, joining with the Angels in what seemed a miracle of radiant scoring.  The inevitability, the sureness of the symphonic sweep was a fitting climax to a fine performance.

J S Bach     St John Passion

Saturday 24th March 2018  7.30pm

St Mary’s Church, Lace Market, Nottingham.

Paul Hale   Conductor
Ruairi Bowen   Evangelist
Stephen Cooper  Christus
Clare Lloyd-Griffiths  Soprano
Jessica Gillingwater   Mezzo-soprano
David de Winter   Tenor
Greg Skidmore   Bass

 

Nottingham Bach Choir deliver ‘one of their best performances of recent years’ at St Mary’s Church

 

‘Incisive, high-energy music making which gripped from the outset’

 

Bach’s Passions, his musical settings of the events of Good Friday, are the nearest things to operas that he wrote. The compelling biblical narrative is supercharged with musical, dramatic and spiritual energy not only in settings of the Gospel texts but also in a series of reflective arias and monumental choruses.

 

The Nottingham Bach Choir, under their conductor Paul Hale, performed on Saturday the St John Passion, music which resides deep within the heart of this choir, their musicianship and commitment making it one of their best performances of recent years.

 

The projection of the biblical text was outstanding. The role of Evangelist is central to the whole drama and on his shoulders lies the burden of communicating the detail and meaning of the events before, during and after the Crucifixion. Ruairi Bowen was compelling from beginning to end, with a beautifully agile voice and probing musical intelligence. Crucially he hardly ever looked at his score, allowing him to communicate directly with the audience and to interact with Stephen Cooper (a sensitively portrayed Christus) and other characters from the narrative. In fact, the whole performance sprang from the bloodstream rather than the page.

 

All the other soloists (Clare Lloyd-Griffiths, Jessica Gillingwater, David de Winter and Greg Skidmore) were effective at injecting a personal, lyrical and contemplative element into the drama. Again they sang with their eyes, not just with beautiful voices.

 

The Bach Choir sang movingly in the devotional chorales, demonstrating their imaginative involvement in the events of the Passion. And they were hugely impressive in the massive choruses which frame the story. Here Paul Hale moulded tightly disciplined performances from both singers and the highly responsive orchestra.

 

This was incisive, high-energy music making which gripped from the outset and kept the audience in its spell until the end.

 

To read William Ruff’s review of our most recent concert , please click on the link to Nottingham Post’s online publication https://www.nottinghampost.com/whats-on/music-nightlife/nottingham-bach-choir-deliver-one-1382994

 

JS Bach     Christmas Oratorio BWV 248    Parts I, II, V & VI

Saturday 26th November 2016   7.30 pm

St Mary’s Church, Lace Market

Conductor  Roger Bryan

Soloists    Ruth Provost, Martha McLorinan, Peter Davoren & Andrew Ashwin

In late 1734, and in his eleventh year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, Bach composed a major new cycle of six cantatas. The cantatas were to be performed at the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche on six feast days from Christmas Day to Epiphany.

The Christmas Oratorio is closer to Bach’s Passions in form, using a tenor Evangelist as narrator, with arias, choruses and chorales illustrating and reflecting on the Gospel texts. Much of the Christmas Oratorio is founded on music composed for earlier cantatas, both sacred and secular. The celebratory cantatas composed for the royal family of Dresden in 1733 are reworked to great effect. In the opening chorus, the bright orchestration of these earlier works is heard accompanied by voices heralding the birth of Christ with the words “Jauchzet! frohlocket (“Shout for joy! Exult!”) with timpani and trumpets echoing the statement. From its exultant opening to the exquisite Pastoral Sinfonia, the spectacular and colourful orchestration ensures Christmas Oratorio remains an audience favourite.

 

Review by William Ruff, Nottingham Post, November 2016.

Yes, I know: the cards, calendars and chocolate Santas have been in the local garden centre since early August. But now the real festive season can begin. The Nottingham Bach Choir have sung their patron composer’s Christmas Oratorio.

The outstanding feature of their performance on Saturday was its story-telling. The Christmas narrative of baby, manger, shepherds, wise men etc was delivered with propulsive energy by tenor Peter Davoren, whose words seemed to take flight as they brought the familiar bible story to life. His fellow, similarly eloquent soloists were Ruth Provost (soprano), Martha McLorinan (mezzo) and Andrew Ashwin (bass), all of whom transmitted the text as if Bach’s German were not only their native language but also that of the audience. And very stylish they were too, enunciating clearly and carefully moulding phrases. Breath control in the mezzo aria Schlafe, mein Liebster must have been a challenge – but its effect was both tender and poignant.

The Bach Choir was on sprightly form too. It’s not easy to keep choral textures clear in the reverberant acoustic of St Mary’s – but under conductor Roger Bryan they sang as if Bach’s notes had been swirling in their bloodstream for years. Their chorales had touching simplicity whilst the big choruses were light on their feet and brightly, bouncily confident and assertive. They looked and sounded particularly impassioned at the start of Part VI as they painted a vivid picture of sharp-clawed enemies snorting with rage.

In this they were aided by some top-notch ensemble and solo playing from the orchestra. The continuo section offered subtle and tireless support whilst arias were coloured by incisive contributions from, amongst others, solo violin and oboes. And amongst the loud cheers at the end, perhaps the loudest were reserved for the dazzling trumpeters.

 

Vivaldi: Gloria

June 23, 2012

David Machell: Gloria
Haydn: Kleines Orgelmesse
Parry: I was Glad

Soloists
Alison Rose (Soprano)
Jeremy Jepson (Alto)

Review for Nottingham Evening Post

https://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/Review-Nottingham-Bach-Choir-St-John-s-Church/story-16446207-detail/story.html

AS befitting a Diamond Jubilee concert, there was a lot to celebrate.

First of all, Her Majesty’s glorious reign, so it was right and proper that the Bach Choir opened with a full-throated setting of the National Anthem and ended with a specially re-orchestrated performance of Parry’s I Was Glad.

The choir also had reason to celebrate their choice of venue. St John’s, Carrington, is well-equipped for music-making and produces a sound that is both warm and clear.

And this is just what you want for brightly festive works which require nimble responses from singers and instrumentalists – such as Haydn’s Little Organ Mass and Vivaldi’s Gloria, both given plenty of rhythmic bounce by conductor Paul Hale and his musicians.

But perhaps the biggest feather in the choir’s cap was their premiere of David Machell’s Gloria, clearly inspired by Vivaldi but speaking in its own distinctive voice and exploding in a starburst of energy.

The urgent, often syncopated rhythms for voices (the choir joined by soprano Alison Rose and counter-tenor Jeremy Jepson) were given extra bite by the accompanying trumpet, organ and the rest of the small but incisive instrumental band.

Composer, performers and audience all had good cause to rejoice.

 

Bach: St Matthew Passion (BWV 244)

March 24, 2012

Soloists
Mary Bevan (Soprano)
Katie Bray (Alto)
Andrew Tortise (Evangelist) and Joshua Ellicott (Arias) (Tenor)
Stephen Cooper (Christus) and Marcus Farnsworth (Arias) (Bass)

 

Review for Nottingham Evening Post

https://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/Chance-ndash-hear-ndash-singers-total-immersion/story-15625469-detail/story.html

EVEN before the first note of the Nottingham Bach Choir’s performance on Saturday the audience knew that the narrative was paramount.

Suspended above the choir in Southwell Minster was a huge screen on which were projected translations of every chorus, recitative and aria. This enabled listeners to focus on the singers and see, as well as hear, their total immersion in the drama.

This was a performance in which singers realised the importance of singing with their eyes, bringing an almost operatic intensity to their roles.

The choir’s deep knowledge of this music expressed itself in crisp articulation and never-flagging commitment. Conducted with probing musical insight by Paul Hale, they were always dramatically convincing – whether as the voices of different communities of believers or as the clamorous, derisive crowds at the Crucifixion.

Eleven members of the choir sang cameo roles, each one well characterised and confidently projected, allowing key moments (such as Peter’s denial) under fierce scrutiny.

The soloists knew the work by heart, their eye-contact with the audience one of this performance’s most arresting features.

Andrew Tortise was outstanding as the Evangelist with a voice of purity and seemingly effortless power. Stephen Cooper was an eloquent, dignified Christus, and the arias were sung stylishly and with vivid attention to detail by Marcus Farnsworth, Joshua Ellicot, Mary Bevan and Katie Bray.

The fine playing of the Orchestra da Camera set the seal on what was a moving and memorable experience.

 

Mendelssohn: Te Deum
Schubert: Mass in G
Bach: Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227)

June 26, 2010

Soloists

(members of the Nottingham Bach Choir)
Susannah Hale (Soprano)
Tim Bacon (Alto)
David Tranter (Tenor)
Stephen Cooper (Bass)

 

Review by William Ruff for Nottingham Evening Post

THE Bach Choir’s programme was well-chosen for a summer Saturday. Not too much knotty complexity – but plenty of light-textured music thoughtfully split between the concert’s two halves with choral music interspersed with solo organ works.

There was certainly plenty of passion in their programme as well as sensitive musicianship. The Te Deum allowed the singers, under their conductor Paul Hale, to demonstrate their excellent balance and tight ensemble. Bach’s motet Jesu, meine Freude, was similarly successful whilst offering much greater musical complexity. The accomplished soloists (Susannah Hale, Tim Bacon, David Tranter and Stephen Cooper) were all drawn from the choir’s ranks.

In an unusual move extra singers had been invited to join the choir for Schubert’s Mass in G. The 35 who accepted not only increased the weight of sound but also clearly delighted in the Mass’s joyful tunefulness. In a break with tradition the Gloria was performed last, giving a notably bright and confident ending to this youthfully exuberant work.

Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in G and Bach’s Fantasia in G were performed with distinction by organist Roger Bryan on an instrument whose brightness and transparency suited them very well.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
Brahms: Schicksalslied

May 15, 2010

Soloists
Caroline Trutz (Soprano)
Katie Bray (Mezzo)
Ben Thapa (Tenor)
Thomas Faulkner (Bass)

 

Review by Grahame Whitehead for Nottingham Evening Post

MEMBERS of the Nottingham Bach Choir joined forces with the Nottingham Symphony Orchestra under Derek Williams for an energy-laden evening of Beethoven and Brahms which demonstrated just how powerfully both composers speak to our emotions.

Beethoven’s Leonora Overture No 1 is not often heard, and the composer himself rejected it as an overture to his opera Egmont, but the NSO’s sensitive interpretation brought out its attractive combination of charm and passion.

Brahms’ setting of Hölderlin’s Song of Destiny finds solace in the face of human suffering.

The gripping central section, looking despair in the face, had a primal energy in its staccato singing and angry string sounds.

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony demands all the stamina that conductor, orchestra, choir and soloists can muster. This exhilarating 65-minute performance rose to the challenge magnificently, beautifully played and sung throughout.

There was excellent singing both from the Bach Choir and from soloists Thomas Faulkner (Bass), Katie Bray (Mezzo), Caroline Trutz (Soprano) and Ben Thapa (Tenor), the last two standing in at short notice.

Haydn: Theresienmesse
Rutter: Magnificat

March 27, 2010

Soloists
Jo Boddison (Soprano)
Kathryn Woodruff (Mezzo)
John Bowley (Tenor)
Andrew Ashwin (Bass)

 

Review by Grahame Whitehead for Nottingham Evening Post

The Nottingham Bach Choir under Paul Hale was in top form for this performance of Haydn’s Theresienmesse and John Rutter’s Magnificat. These liturgical settings come from very different musical backgrounds, almost two centuries apart, but they complemented each other perfectly with their accessibility and their prevailing mood of solace and joy. This was music to gladden the heart after a long winter.

The opening Kyrie of Haydn’s 1799 Mass established the tone: quiet serenity giving way to child-like unalloyed happiness. The brass section of the Bach Orchestra underpinned this extrovert mood with some fine playing.

Standing on high staging in the crossing, the Choir exploited the St Mary’s acoustic to the full and produced a beautifully mature, well-blended sound which was incisive and clearly articulated. Equally strong was the contribution of soloists Jo Boddison (Soprano), Kathryn Woodruff (Alto), John Bowley (Tenor) and Andrew Ashwin (Bass). Soloists, Choir and instrumentalists, in varying combinations, sensitively conveyed the warmth of Haydn’s music, its synthesis of confidence and reverence, and the many details of sound-painting.

The very different sound-world of Rutter’s Magnificat, first performed in 1990, was recreated with equal assurance. The English pastoral idiom was attractively juxtaposed with more flamboyant Latin American rhythms to produce a satisfying whole which had tenderness, confidence and vitality. Soprano Jo Boddison sang with warmth and relished the sensuous attention to detail in Rutter’s setting of Esurientes.

The percussionists had their chance to shine, supported by John Keys on the organ, in the vigorous Fecit potentiam and Gloria.

 

Grier: Around the Curve of the World
Parry: Blest Pair of Sirens
Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs

November 28, 2009

Soloists
Soprano: Dorothee Jansen
Mezzo: Sarah Pring
Tenor: Stephen Brown
Bass: Adrian Clarke

 

Review by Peter Palmer for Nottingham Evening Post

Francis Grier wrote Around the Curve of the World (2000) for a specific occasion, the 150th anniversary of an Anglican colony in New Zealand.

Such works often get a couple of performances at most, so does Grier’s deserve better? Nottingham Bach Choir and Orchestra answered with a resounding Yes on Saturday. Under Paul Hale’s direction the score showed a fine sense of pace and impressive climaxes.

Combining human emotions and the changing motions of the sea, choir and orchestra resembled a constantly turning kaleidoscope. No Maori chants will be found here. But Sue Mayo’s text is no hymn to empire building, simply a tale of travellers seeking a new life, “free to live in partnership with those who dwelt here first.”

And while recalling a little Stravinsky and a fair bit of Britten, Grier’s soundtrack of canticles, narratives and psalms creates a dramatic world of its own.

The choir supplied the female semi-chorus who introduce each leg of the voyage. There was impassioned solo singing from bass Adrian Clarke as the colony’s founder and mezzo Sarah Pring as his wife. Soprano Dorothee Jansen and tenor Stephen Brown made vivid emigrants.

Earlier, Parry and Vaughan Williams enjoyed strong and stirring performances.

 

Elgar: Te Deum and Benedictus
Haydn: Te Deum
Durufle: Requiem

June 27, 2009

Soloists
Zena Bradley (Mezzo)
Stephen Cooper (Bass)
Margaret Chadwick (Cello)
John Keys (Organ)

Review by Peter Palmer for Nottingham Evening Post

OUTSIDE the world of French organ music, Maurice Duruflé is remembered for one work, the Requiem Mass he composed in 1947.

In character the piece is largely meditative and intimate – although Duruflé’s setting of the “Pie Jesu” text departs from Fauré’s example and seems to reflect the tribulations of war.

Accompanied by Margaret Chadwick’s cello, Zena Bradley sang an eloquent solo. As a whole, the Requiem was most sensitively realised by the Bach Choir under Paul Hale, Stephen Cooper delivering the powerful baritone prayers of the Offertory and “Libera Me”.

At the Danish pipe organ, John Keys underpinned and decorated the Requiem with his sympathetic accompaniments.

The evening opened with the ripe romanticism of Elgar’s double canticle Te Deum and Benedictus, written for the Three Choirs Festival. With their “Gloria” section, the Bach Choir achieved a truly festive climax.

Margaret Chadwick celebrated JS Bach with the Sarabande and Gigue from his long neglected Cello Suite No. 5, in C minor. This music made a fitting prelude to Haydn’s short but captivating Te Deum, in which choir and organist complemented each other with style and panache.

 

Bach: Johannes-Passion, BWV 245

March 21, 2009

Soloists
Mary Bevan (Soprano)
Roderick Morris (Counter-tenor)
Richard Dowling (Tenor, arias)
James Oxley (Tenor, Evangelist)
Marcus Farnsworth (Bass, arias)
Stephen Cooper (Bass, Jesus)

Review by William Ruff for Nottingham Evening Post

YOU could tell that the St John Passion is well and truly embedded in the lifeblood of the Bach Society. Their long familiarity with Bach’s great work meant the story could be told with a vivid sense of drama and that the audience could have confidence that the work’s technical challenges would inspire rather than be a cause for concern.

The choir’s first cries of ‘Herr, unser Herrscher’ were delivered with such fervent conviction that there seemed no choice but to believe that goodness will rise triumphantly out of betrayal and humiliation.

Conductor Paul Hale drew singing and playing of clarity and power from his choral and orchestral forces, with each chorale movingly expressing the emotions generated by each stage of the narrative.

James Oxley as the Evangelist combined vocal beauty with an ability to project his story deeply within the audience’s imagination. Each recitative was skillfully paced, always sensitive to mood and meaning.

The arias were sung by a highly promising team of young soloists (Mary Bevan, Roderick Morris, Richard Dowling and Marcus Farnsworth) often with distinguished instrumental accompaniment.

Stephen Cooper sang the role of Jesus with sensitivity.

 

Verdi: Requiem

November 29, 2008

Elisabeth Meister (Soprano)

Lise Christensen (Mezzo)

James Edwards (Tenor)

Paul Reeves (Bass)

Review by Grahame Whitehead for Nottingham Evening Post

From the hushed opening Requiem aeternam to the final heartfelt Libera me, this was an interpretation that brought out the depths of Verdi’s masterpiece. All the components of a fine performance were there: superb solo work from Elisabeth Meister (soprano), Lise Christensen (mezzo), James Edwards (tenor) and Paul Reeves (bass); sensitive, responsive playing by the Bach Orchestra under Paul Hale and energetic, perfectly balanced singing by the Choir; and, not least, the acoustic and setting of St Mary’s Church.

Yet the whole was even greater than its parts, and the operatic gestures were never just show: everything combined to bring alive the texts with an immediacy which transcended their traditional Christian context and spoke to both the heart and the mind.

The terror of Dies irae was as real as the sinner’s intimate pleading for mercy.

 

Concert tour in France for Nottingham choir

May 2008

Around 30 members of the Nottingham Bach Choir have just returned from a successful concert tour of central France. Directed by their former accompanist Philip Collin, now Director of the Manchester Bach Choir, the group gave a number of performances to highly appreciative audiences in the Auvergne region, famous for the volcanic influence on its scenery and architecture.

Accompanied by John Pryer, organist of the Birmingham Oratory, the varied programme consisted primarily of works by European composers, including Fauré, Bach, Haydn, Bruckner and John Rutter.

Tour organiser Alison Arlington said;

This was a wonderful opportunity for us to sing to some new audiences in different venues abroad and to make friendships in France through making music. It was only possible because the hard work of members of the Bach Choir and the generosity and hospitality of many people in the places where we sang.

 

Handel Israel in Egypt

March 8, 2008

Soloists
Sarah Simmonds, Jo Boddison (Soprano)
Stephen Power (Alto)
Richard Pratt (Tenor)

Review by Grahame Whitehead for Nottingham Evening Post

Handel’s sacred oratorio Israel in Egypt is both a spiritual reflection on the Exodus story and a dramatic recreation of the accounts of the Plagues and the Red Sea crossing. Both elements were strongly conveyed under Paul Hale, who brought out the sense of excitement.

Both choir and orchestra gave superbly polished and disciplined performances, complemented by strong contributions from soloists Sarah Simmonds and Jo Boddison (soprano), Stephen Power (alto) and Richard Pratt (tenor).

 

 

Nottingham Bach Choir

The Secretary,
108 Blake Road,
West Bridgford
Nottingham. NG2 5JZ

Registered Charity No: 508139