Britten Sinfonia and BBC Singers

MICHAEL DRAKE St Andrew's Hall, Norwich


The Britten Sinfonia are an ensemble of which I for one never tire, for whatever their programme – last evening's focus was on peace – they always play it with class.

Thus, under their always lively conductor Nicholas Cleobury, Bach's Orchestral Suite No 3 contained outer coverings of stateliness and lively dialogue with sprightly gavottes and a very pacey final gigue producing Bach at his brightest.

The Premier of Judith Bingham's The Christmas Truce, inspired by the cease-fire in the first Christmas of the first world war, upheld the Sinfonia's reputation for innovative programming. While often musically predictable, it is nevertheless poignantly atmospheric with its backing of trumpet calls, percussive explosions and screaming shells.

The BBC Singers coloured the narrative with exemplary projection and diction, and I found this first hearing quite emotional, particularly in the symbolic closing of “English” and “German” ranks during the final hymn. Perhaps it should be performed before any conflicts break out.

In contrast, Finzi's In Terra Pax had a seasonal gentility with Stephen Charlesworth's high baritone being well projected in a detached way, and soprano Elizabeth Poole singing with great clarity in another work of musical colour if not huge substance.

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Finally, back to Bach and his rarely heard (except as a precursor to the B minor Mass) Cantata No 191, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, which was vocally powerful but with many subtle areas from singers and Sinfonia in a performance of the utmost precision. There should have been a full house.

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