OAE/Trinity Choir/Layton, St John’s Smith Square
Thursday 23 December 2010
With much-loved classics, familiarity can breed such content that we become blind to their strangenesses.
So it was salutary to be reminded, in Anthony Burton’s programme-note to Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio’, that most of the music for this sacred masterpiece had been recycled from secular cantatas composed in homage to the Saxon royal family, to celebrate their birthdays and visits to Leipzig: thus were the tools of worldly flattery re-used for divine ends. What struck me, meanwhile, was the remarkable congruence of verses of its Lutheran text with images in medieval Sufi mystical poetry. ‘Prepare yourself, Zion, with sweet desire...Today your cheeks must be more beautiful to behold; hurry to love your bridegroom...’ Both religions sexualise the encounter between God and mankind.
All of which is a mere by-the-way to the fact that for this concert we had a stellar line-up of soloists, one of the most capable choirs in the business, and Britain’s indisputably best period-instrument ensemble in the form of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. When the choir of Trinity College Cambridge launched into the jubilant opening chorus, under Stephen Layton’s direction, it was clear we were in safe hands.
And when James Gilchrist - one of our most accomplished oratorio tenors – went into his first recitative, followed by that incomparable counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, all was right with the world. Here the Protean Davies – fresh from starring in Handel’s ‘Messiah’ at the Wigmore Hall - employed a cleanly instrumental sound, while Gilchrist responded to the demands of his part with explosive energy and brilliant flights of coloratura: if at moments he tipped over into manneredness, that was almost inevitable, given the virtuosity Bach was calling for.
Neal Davies, another oratorio veteran, had been billed as the bass, but it was Christopher Purves who materialised: Purves’s background in opera – plus, perhaps, his youthful stint with Harvey and the Wallbangers – was clearly to be sensed in the drama with which he infused his words. Only the soprano Elin Manahan Thomas seemed below par, with a shallow, squeaky sound: her voice had no substance, giving no sense of having emanated from the diaphragm. No praise can be too high for the orchestra, whose trumpets and oboes conjured heaven.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 2 David De Gea: Manchester United goalkeeper's £29m move to Real Madrid off - because paperwork 'not done in time'
- 3 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
- 4 A Chinese journalist has appeared on state television 'confessing' to causing the stock market chaos
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Wes Craven dead: Why Johnny Depp owes his career to director’s 13-year-old daughter
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
VMAs 2015: You can already buy ‘Kanye West for president’ t-shirts
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms