Concert Review: Birmingham Bach Choir Summer Concert (July 2024)

As the early-evening sun streamed through the beautiful stained glass windows, the high church surroundings of Birmingham’s St Alban the Martyr provided the perfect setting for a splendidly adventurous programme of music for Birmingham Bach Choir’s Summer Concert.

The concert opened with Elgar’s majestic extended anthem, Give Unto the Lord, the choir relishing the vaulted acoustics of the church as the parts wove seamlessly in and out of one and other. The choir was perfectly balanced, as it was throughout the concert, and it was super to see and hear such a strong tenor and bass section. I would have valued more organ, again, throughout the concert too, but the instrument is rather tucked away in the corner.

The organ got its chance to shine in the second item, as young virtuoso, Calum Alger, played Stanford’s Fantasia and Toccata in D minor. He found a huge variety of tonal colour from the instrument, and the precision of the faster passages was most impressive, the acoustics of the building somehow demanding such clarity in the playing.

The third of the items on the programme was the first of the evening’s commissions, David Bednall’s The Dear Bargain. The work was commissioned to mark the choir’s centenary and first performed in 2021. Bednall is a relatively new composer to me, but the work, whilst complex, flowed effortlessly, the majestic Howells-like melismas a perfect pairing for some stunning unison passages. It’s a fantastic piece, clearly enjoyed by the choir, and how nice to see a commission such as this getting another outing.

Concert Review: Birmingham Bach Choir Summer Concert (July 2024) - St Alban the Martyr Birmingham

The second commission of the evening, Paul Spicer’s Sound the Invisible Trumps followed the interval. This is the second time I’ve been privileged enough to hear this work, and it did not disappoint. Moments of intense tenderness are met by drama, anguish, and dancing jubilation. The choir navigated the complex score with confidence and assurance. It was clearly a work which meant a lot to them, and understandably so. Beautiful poems by the choir’s late-president and friend, Pauline Round, offered the perfect opportunity for the two soloists to shine, their unaccompanied folk-song-like openings, seamlessly giving way to the the sublime and tender full choir. In particular, Isaac Boulter’s meltingly smooth baritone voice was the perfect choice here, the great height of the church seeming to only intensify its beauty further.

The concert closed with one of Walter Hussey’s great commissions, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, featuring harp and percussion alongside the organ. This is an extremely complex work and it was, perhaps, the one with which I sensed the choir felt least assured. Nevertheless, there was much to commend, especially in the second movement which featured the choir’s own Jonathan Spencer as the countertenor soloist. As with previous concerts, there were also excellent solos throughout the programme taken by members of the choir.

It was a great shame that more people hadn’t turned out to enjoy such a lovely evening of music. Alas, I suspect a combination of the football, the tennis, the train delays and cancellations, and the less than favourable location, all played their part. Those who didn’t come missed a treat!

Overall, it was a glorious evening of music, bathed in the setting sun, and delivered to the choir’s ever-professional high standards. There was a clear commitment from every person in the choir, and Paul Spicer, conducting, brought the individual parts together to give yet another phenomenal 5-star performance. 


St Alban’s Church, Birmingham, Saturday 6th July 2024, 7pm

Bednall: The Dear Bargain
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms
Elgar: Give Unto the Lord
Spicer: Sound the Invisible Trumps
Stanford: Fantasia and Toccata in D minor

Birmingham Bach Choir
Iris van den Bos percussion
Stien de Neef harp
Ciará Preston Myakicheff soprano
Isaac Boulter baritone
Callum Alger organ
Paul Spicer conductor

I received complimentary tickets for this concert in return for a review. If you would like me to consider reviewing your concert, help you promote it, and feature it here on my blog, please get in touch.

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