For this concert in the spacious Victoria Hall, Sheffield Bach Choir joined forces with Leeds-based St Peter’s Singers – embracing a very Classical-Sheffield ethos of combining resources!
Spurred on by Simon Lindley's conducting (which used and inspired enough energy to keep national prices down for a while longer yet), the musicians produced a performance of great commitment which seemed to increase in freshness as the concert went on, despite a demanding programme.
I initially wondered whether the minimal acoustic (the venue is carpeted and padded) might not afford this music the space and warmth it requires. But, in fact, it made for an exceptionally clean, focussed sound that really helped to bring the lines out and to communicate detail, especially with more than 70 musicians involved.
The only time that I wanted more echo was at the end of movements when triumphant Amens or grand cadences stopped dead in their tracks rather than spun out into the space. But on the other hand, softer moments were made all the more intimate. There was striking nuance in the Agnus Dei of the Charpentier, and a beautifully understated finish.
Just occasionally, the tenors and basses faced an unfair fight to be heard in the texture, and tone wasn't always completely full at those moments. Happily, though, this was limited to the Charpentier only; the very first entry in the motoring Handel was far more successful, and they didn't look back from there.
Far from being precious, the soloists entered into the chorus work with great vigour and I admired all the contributions throughout the evening, choral and solo, and the elegant and graceful playing supplied by the National Festival Orchestra.
Cleverly, Vivaldi’s evergreen Gloria came at the end; who couldn't lift their spirits one last time for that? It was every bit as fine and fresh as the opening bars of Charpentier had been. The final movement concluded gloriously!