I Fagiolini, St John's, Smith Square, London

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The Independent Culture

If the Monteverdi Choir is the ancien régime of Advent Bach presentations, I Fagiolini make a lively opposition. Not quite young firebrands shunning the seasonal repertoire, Robert Hollingworth's chorus of soloists are more your traditional liberals. They sang seasonal cantatas for half the concert, and they also opened up their programme to a mass, a motet by J S Bach's uncle Johann Christoph and - exceptionally for the time of year - a contemporary work in its London premiere. Having their Christmas cake and eating it.

They have their own style, too. Compared with the Monteverdi's, the sound is more open and English with less of the luminous inward glow.

Lavish, vibrant tone of near-operatic extroversion featured from the start in J C's eight-part unaccompanied motet, dramatically sung from the middle of the hall with two groups separated to emphasise the musical imitations.

Opulent, it turned out when the players of the Academy of Ancient Music joined the full 12-strong chorus, and also opaque. The two richly scored cantatas that followed had their leanly delivered, carefully non-vibrato orchestral parts somewhat swamped in the full choral movements.

With its simpler textures, the short Mass in F had the best performance. The new piece, Winter Chorale - based on Laurie Lee's poem "Christmas Landscape" - ended with the emotive shock of life renewed in a violent birth. This birth takes place to overt quotations of Bach, and although the music briefly closes in again with fragments of the big chill, it has worked in its more elaborate way the same effect as the close of the poem - that at least was the impact of I Fagiolini's finely shaded performance.

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