Reading Bach Choir concert,
St James’ Church,
Saturday July 5 2014
I must be honest. After a long week I quite fancied curling up in front of the television with a glass of wine or two on Saturday night, not going to hear a concert of music I didn’t know in a church I had never been to before. But I am so glad I did!
St James’ church is steeped in history, sitting as it does right next to the Abbey ruins in central Reading. But it has recently undergone an interior restoration – the church is bright, beautiful and welcoming with a sense of peace.
The Catholic church was an ideal church for this summer concert, for several reasons. Firstly, one of the items included a setting of Sumer is icumen in, one of the earliest pieces of written music and discovered in Reading Abbey. Secondly, the concert featured a work dedicated to the Virgin Mary, specially commissioned by the Reading Bach Choir and composed by Gabriel Jackson. The composer was present at the concert and introduced his work and the thinking behind it.
Another reason for the suitability of St James’ for this concert is the ideal acoustic of the building for unaccompanied singing and the entire concert was performed a cappella, no mean feat for a 50-strong choir. From the very first moments, the choir sang as if with one voice, all eyes on their talented conductor, Matthew Hamilton, who has already directed a very impressive number of well-known choirs including the BBC Singers and the CBSO Chorus.
I needn’t have been worried about not being familiar with any of the works as the programme was a treat – music sung in English, Russian, Latin and Estonian with energy, attention to detail and obvious enjoyment.
A highlight of the evening was the close-harmony singing in All Nature has a Feeling, a contemporary work by Lithuanian composer Mantas Savickis.
The commissioned work by Gabriel Jackson was very engaging, using Latin and English texts sung simultaneously by different parts of the choir.
Also unknown to me were Three Sacred Hymns by Russian composer Alfred Schnittke. These were composed for double choir and contain some lovely rich harmonies. The commitment of the choir to bring out every detail was further enhanced by the fabulous acoustics of the church.
Reading Bach Choir has a reputation for performing music to a high standard and this concert was certainly no exception, despite an obviously challenging programme. The range of vocal colours, textures and dynamics, together with the different layers of sound made for a truly accomplished, professional performance.
There is another chance to hear the commissioned work by Gabriel Jackson at Reading Minster on Friday, October 24 and the choir will also be performing Handel’s Messiah on Saturday, December 13 at Greyfriars church in Reading.
Certainly one not to be missed.