The work brims over with energy and to this Paul Hale added elegance, insightful phrasing and much care with diction
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.