French choral music from the second half of the 19th Century found the Bach Choir in fine voice, exceptionally so at times, and nowhere more resoundingly than in Gounod’s “Messe Solenelle de Saint Cécile.
The grandiose work rang out in its melodic and often operatic splendour with conductor Simon Lindley ensuring it never took on a cloak of religious kitsch, even the obvious pitfall of the instrumental-only Offertory avoided sounding like an operatic intermezzo.
His tremendous enthusiasm clearly rubbed off on his choir – you could see it in the faces.
Et Resurrexit in the irresistibly theatrical Credo could hardly have rung out more triumphantly and, generally, projection of the Latin text was crystal clear. Jenny Leadbeater, Stephen Liley and Matthew Palmer, whose impressive voice is developing nicely and seems to be settling naturally as a bass-baritone, were the excellent soloist having earlier been joined by a second soprano, Anita Wiencelewski and mezzo-soprano Kathryn Woodruff for Saint-Saëns’ little known Oratorio de Noël.
Far less ostentatious than the Gounod, with a suggestive musical nod towards the Nativity sequence of Berlioz’s “L’Enfance du Christ”, perhaps its essentially peaceful demeanour has contributed to the undeserving, relative obscurity that is its lot.
Staggeringly beautiful string playing from the National Festival Orchestra in the introduction of John Rutter’s realisation of Fauré’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” preceded a finely balanced account of it from the choir, but the over-egged orchestration of his choral version of Franck’s famous “Panis Angelicus” robs it of its basic simplicity. Bernard Lee.