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Oxford Bach Choir: Sheldonian Theatre
It may be presumed that those who come to sing to the glory of God do so, too, for the good of their souls. There was about many members of the Oxford Bach Choir on Saturday night an exalted look that proved hugely conducive to my enjoyment of the music they were singing with such rapture.
Principally, this was Brahms’s A German Requiem. This uplifting work, influenced by the deaths of the composer’s mother and his friend Robert Schumann, is judged one of Brahms’s greatest achievements. A historical note in the programme revealed that this was the choir’s 23rd performance of the requiem. Most have been given in conventional style with the use of a full orchestra. On this occasion the choir, under conductor Timothy Byram-Wigfield, sang to the piano accompaniment scored by the composer for two players (here Elizabeth Burgess and Gavin Roberts) at one keyboard.
To the extent that this focused attention primarily on the singers, the move was a sound one in a concert planned to celebrate the human voice.
It has to be said, though, that a work justly famous for the lushness of its orchestration — sombre strings, glittering harp, relentlessly pounding drums — comes over very differently shorn of this.
None could deny, though, the sombre beauty of the closing section, with the music ending on a dying fall with the word ‘blessed’ (which we were).
On the way there was a powerful performance in the third movement by baritone Ben McAteer, trading words of the Psalmist with the choir, while soprano Ana-Maria Rincon produced a vocal line in the moving fifth section as glittering as the diamonds at her throat.
The choir’s programme also featured Rheinberger’s unaccompanied Mass in E flat major for double choir and Schubert’s Rondo in A, D.951, fizzily interpreted by the night’s two pianists.