Provided everyone performing it is totally committed, it is difficult for Britten’s towering and moving indictment on the consequences of war to fail. Perhaps not perfect, it didn’t fail here.
The Lindley Junior School Choir, stage left in the corridor, sounded splendid and just right but too distant to fully appreciate. Tenor Peter Hoare and baritone Neal Davies sang meaningfully and with feeling, but the clarity of Wilfred Owen’s all-important words was at premium.
Even that, though, couldn’t destroy the impact of their rendering of the marvellous So Abram arose. To the audience member who emitted a loud, unguarded cough immediately after Davies had sung ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend’, you should be thoroughly ashamed!
One feared the sort of performance Emma Bell was going to turn in after her opening Libor scriptus. Happily, she got her voice into gear with it, losing the pronounced vibrato in her voice’s lower reaches in the process, and we had singing worthy of the soprano’s reputation.
The playing of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was simply superb in all departments and, chorally, on the whole magnificent with the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus swelled in number by members of the Sheffield Oratorio Chorus and CBSO Chorus.
Chorus master Darius Battiwalla had certainly done his job achieving fine balance and togetherness. The complex rhythms of Sed signifer sanctus in the Offertory were skilfully wrought, while clarity of the multiple lines in Pleni sunt coeli in the Sanctus was amazing.
A little stronger projection would not have gone amiss once or twice, although this may have had something to with conductor Michael Seal’s somewhat measured approach to work which started relaxing from the Sanctus onwards and he contrived a positively cataclysmic end to the Libera Me.