BBC Singers/Oae/ Marin Alsop, St Paul's Cathedral, London <!-- none onestar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Why do concert promoters persist in mounting events in that acoustic Sargasso Sea, St Paul's Cathedral? It is not just that the endless echo reduces music of any harmonic complexity to a miasma, but that nothing projects. Even as heard from a seat under the dome some 20 yards away from the performers, the sound seems to travel in every direction except towards one. The opening and closing items of this final concert in this year's City of London Festival sounded little more than ghosts of themselves.

This mattered less in the opener. Toru Takemitsu's Wind Horse for chorus - programmed as part of this year's London-Tokyo theme - is one of the Japanese master's odder confections, evoking the five colours of Buddhist prayer flags in a mix of French-style harmony and birdcalls with a sentimental hillbilly refrain. As far as one could hear, the BBC Singers directed by a solicitous Andrew Carwood delivered a sensitive account, though their quieter moments were all but drowned by the hissing of wind from the cathedral's idling organ.

More grievous was the impairment of Fauré's gentle Requiem, being heard for once in the small-orchestra version - solo violin, lower strings, trombones and organ - that he evidently preferred to the full orchestral scoring his publisher demanded.

In what one could more see than hear was an especially poignant interpretation by Marin Alsop with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, only the histrionic baritone Gilles Cachemaille, placed out front, come over directly. Master Christopher Sladdin's beautifully poised account of the "Pie Jesu" treble solo must have been almost inaudible to the large audience further back.

Judith Bingham's choral sequence Hidden City, commissioned by Nomura, proved to be a mediation, in guidebook citations and Japanese lyrics, on "what survives after unimaginable loss". A harp under the dome plunked exotic scales, hidden voices wailed from the transepts and the West end, drums and thundersheets roared from the chancel. It was all effective enough as a sound-montage, but it was difficult to detect much in the way of individuality.