LABELS: Birmingham Bach Choir
ALBUM TITLE: Spicer – Easter Oratorio
WORKS: Easter Oratorio
PERFORMER: Rachel Nicholls (soprano), Philip Salmon, Nathan Vale (tenor), Jonathan Gunthorpe (baritone); Alexander Mason (organ); Lichfield Cathedral Choristers & Special Choir; Birmingham Bach Choir; English SO/Paul Spicer
CATALOGUE NO: BBC CD 006 (available www.easteroratorio.com)
It’s a brave thing to deliberately follow in the footsteps of greatness, and that is what Paul Spicer has done in writing his Easter Oratorio ‘for choirs seeking an alternative to the Bach Passions’. The basic ingredients of the work – an Evangelist narrator, chorales, solo bass, soprano and tenor commentators – derive from Bach’s towering masterpieces. So, too, does the biblically based text, which ‘begins where the Passions end’, with Jesus crucified and dead in the tomb.
The outstanding musical performance is that of Philip Salmon as the Evangelist, whose supple lyric tenor is a constant source of story-telling enlightenment. It helps that he has most of the best music to sing – Spicer’s settings of the Evangelist’s narrations are much more interesting harmonically and alluring melodically than his writing for the choral forces, which is blander and much more generalised in impact. There is also occasionally simply too much of it: eight verses of choir as Part I lumbers to its conclusion is killing the thing you love by most standards of measurement.
The choral singing itself – by the combined forces of the Birmingham Bach Choir with Lichfield Cathedral Choristers and ‘Special Choir’ – is superbly committed. Structural unwieldiness and musical unevenness notwithstanding, Spicer’s oratorio may well prove an attractive proposition to the ‘good choral societies’ for which it was written. Terry Blain