JS Bach Mass in B minor 30th March 2019
On Saturday 30 March the audience in St Mary-le-Tower had a very special experience. The Ipswich Chamber Choir and its orchestra introduced us to an understanding of the extraordinary mind of Bach.
Constructed at the end of Bach’s life, including a Kyrie and Gloria written to grab the attention of a prospective employer, the Mass in B minor represents a craftsman’s need to complete a project. It is the culmination of Bach’s exploration of structures for voices and instruments, drawing on a lifetime of practical and theoretical output. C P E Bach catalogues the work as the ‘Great Catholic Mass’. Never intended to be a liturgical accompaniment, there are moments of the religious intensity found in Bach’s Passions. Yet this work is almost tailor-made for a concert performance.
The choir were a revelation. There was an indication of its ability in just the discipline of standing and seating - a detail that set an expectation of excellence. Fulfilling the idea of ‘chamber’, the choir was rich and powerful enough to define the dynamics of a piece that required them. Balance is key to Bach. Throughout the piece voices and instruments were in perfect balance, and rarely did voices struggle against the ensemble. This was helped by the subtlety of period instruments with their more restrained timbre. And the deliberateness of Bach’s orchestration.
From the direct solid opening of the Kyrie, the work lifted and moved forward. There was a real sense of the piece breathing, letting Bach’s pauses and overall rhythm come through. Whether managing the balance of harmonies in chorale-like blocks of sound or responding to a fugal challenge, the sections of the choir sure-footedly picked their way through the intricacies, never stumbling. When the soloists picked up the Kyrie there was a sense of the ground becoming firmer under their feet as the work progressed.
There were many instances of subtle sound balance: soprano and tenor sounding against flutes, the uplifting drama of trumpets in the Gloria, and shadows falling on harmonies as in the Et in terra pax. And all the while the contrast of Bach’s wonderful, light, dancing duets, such as those of soprano and violin.
The Credo is Bach’s moment to affirm belief. A string bass walks through a protestant robustness, denying sentimentality, the baroque oboe colouring its emotion. All the time the quality of the strings and the colour of the woodwind shifts in combinations around his confession. The drama of a Bach Passion came to the fore in the Crucifixus and Et resurrexit - from lament to the joyous outburst of resurrection.
The choir summoned its energy for the Sanctus, the trumpet announcing Bach’s human angelic choirs, and through swaying sustained chords and a broad falling bass the tenors attacked their lines. Great to hear tenors so definite and confident. And after the interval the choir burst in with vigour for an Osanna.
These days, based on assumptions that soloists were drawn from members of Bach’s small chamber choirs, rather than big operatic voices we look to voices that match chamber timbres. Bethany Partridge’s soprano was pitched well for Bach and carried an optimism. Tom Lilburn, countertenor, seemed to grow with authority as the piece progressed; perfect for the lament. Tenor William Searle held effortlessly to the rich opportunities in his solos, and the sublime dialogue of the Bendictus was a highlight. Tom Herring was as strong and clear. The soloists worked effortlessly with their accompanying instruments.
The Geldart Ensemble, its members drawn from leading baroque ensembles, provided the perfect balance to the choir and soloists. Rachel Stroud led with imagination. There was a definite belief in what they were doing. The flutes were quite special, the brass in the trumpets and the natural horn were impressively clear, the rounded softness of the baroque bassoon filled passages with colour. But I lift my hat to the oboes d’amore who played tirelessly, a constant rolling, fluid quality of sound that bound the ever shifting harmony of Bach to the meaning of the piece.
The Mass in B minor has a special place in Bach’s output. There was a clarity of purpose in the way Benedict Collins Rice managed his musical forces and an inevitability in the way Bach’s drama was revealed. Under his guidance the final chorus reaching that impressive moment when as the sound dies we experience a flood of emotion that comes from a piece that has resolved and released its inner tension. A tension we weren’t aware of until the final bars.
JS Bach Mass in B minor 30th March 2019
On 30th March 2019 a packed audience in St. Mary-le-Tower Church was treated to a breath-taking performance of J S Bach’s Mass in B minor. This huge and testing work was given masterly life by Ipswich Chamber Choir and the Geldart Ensemble with four soloists under the sensitive and unerring guidance of their conductor Benedict Collins Rice.
The members of the choir were fully immersed in their joy and confidence in a work for which they had been meticulously prepared. They engaged the audience totally and confidently brought to life the textural niceties of the complex contrapuntal work, often in six parts, and even in eight voices, as well as the more homophonic magnificence of this grand work.
The orchestra, playing on baroque instruments, was the spectacular foundation which allowed the audience all this magic. The upper strings in particular worked with palpable synergy and sheer co-joined happiness. The leader, Rachel Stroud, produced a perfectly accomplished obligato violin. I quote from the programme, “The first solo section of the Gloria is one of the most technically demanding solos of the work, accompanied by a complex violin solo which itself would not have been out of place in one of the violin concertos”. The work affords a great deal of musical variety using paired instrumental obligati to accompany the vocal soloists featuring, at various times, a pair of unison baroque flutes, a pair of oboes d’amore, and a corno da caccia with a pair of bassoons and continuo all of which were perfectly wonderful! The trumpets and timpani gave brilliance to the whole.
Not least were the young and talented soloists, Bethany Partridge, Will Searle, Tom Herring and the counter tenor Tom Lilburn who sang a truly heart-stopping “Agnus Dei” before the closing poignant “Dona Nobis Pacem” from the choir.
In all, two and a half hours of superb and uplifting music making.
Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610
Ipswich Chamber Choir
Choristers of St Mary-le-Tower
St Mary-le-Tower Church 25th March 2017
The turn of the sixteenth century saw perhaps the most far-reaching revolution in the history of western music and towering above all other composers of his generation was Claudio Monteverdi. The Vespers of 1610, an undoubted masterpiece, not only presents intimate prayerful moments but also incorporates secular music whilst at the same time displaying an array of diverse musical forms, both traditional and contemporary.
From the opening plainchant of the Domine ad adiuvandum, the majestic fanfare of the Lauda Jerusalem and the final atmospheric Sicut Erat, the choirs, soloists and orchestra, under the faultless and sympathetic direction of Christopher Borrett, captured perfectly the different moods and musical styles presented by this difficult work. All the soloists gave excellent performances and the way, in which the performance was "staged" during many of the solos, gave these movements the perfectly intimate settings which the music demanded. The evening also provided the young Choristers of St Mary-le-Tower the perfect opportunity, which they certainly grasped, to take part in one of music's great works.
This is the first time that the Vespers of 1610 has been performed in Ipswich and I am certain that all those who were fortunate enough to attend the concert will not wish to have to wait another four hundred years before it is next performed.
30th ANNIVERSARY Concert
16th May 2015
St Andrew’s Church, Rushmere
There was an air of expectation amongst the packed audience before the start of the Ipswich Chamber Choir’s concert, and the arrival of the period instrument band on stage certainly enhanced that expectation.
The concert started with Vivaldi’s ever popular Gloria, which one might think as slightly unadventurous for a 30th anniversary season concert. However, the crisp light treatment given to the piece by the conductor Christopher Borrett, and the wonderful timbre of the band gave new insights into the piece and why it remains a favourite. Of particular note were the trumpet and oboe with the choir delivering a smooth, blended sound with good attack and articulation.
Following the interval, we were treated to a semi-staged performance of Purcell’s miniature opera, Dido & Aeneas. The choir gave splendid support to an excellent line-up of soloists who brought to life both the comic and tragic aspects of the storey. Kate Symonds-Joy was particularly powerful as Dido and I have not seen such a compelling performance of Aeneas as that delivered by Robert Davies. The band excelled themselves, with some wonderful sounds from the theorbo and dance-like (literally!) playing from the double bass.
It is encouraging to see that, thirty years on, the Ipswich Chamber Choir is producing first rate concerts and I am sure that their conductor Christopher Borrett will take them on to even greater heights.