J S Bach’s monumental late composition, completed just before his death in 1750, received a fitting performance at this concert. The number of singers to be used in this work has been the subject of much discussion, with selections ranging from one voice per part to full massed choirs. For me, there is no question that the piece works best in live performance with large forces, and HCS, with over one hundred singers, demonstrated that.
The four soloists were of high quality, Grace Davidson’s soprano has a timbre of rare beauty, and the same can be said for alto Tim Travers-Brown, whose contributions held the rapt attention of the audience. Tribute must also be paid to the horn player who accompanied Colin Campbell’s soulfully sung bass aria and played the subsequent horn solo with complete command. Nick Madden sang his tenor parts with fine voice and depth of feeling.
The great choruses were handled by the choir with splendid unison and fine intonation, obviously well-rehearsed, but not lacking in spontaneity, and the overall impact was simply overwhelming. The problems of balance sometimes apparent at this venue were on this occasion solved, with maestro Harrison judging the orchestral volumes perfectly, to render the singers clearly audible. His choice of generally moderate tempi and avoidance of extremes brought out all beauty implicit in this masterpiece and steered it to an impressive conclusion.