National Concert Hall Baroque Christmas at NCH on December 15th 2013
It’s that time of year again, with Handel’s Messiah and carol services on what seems like every second night. The Irish Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir Ireland, under the direction of conductor Paul Hillier, are in the National Concert Hall with a selection of baroque Christmas music.
Dublin’s NCH is never the most atmospheric concert space. Overly bright lighting often detracts from any ambience the main hall might possess. Tonight’s performance of seasonal baroque music is unfortunately let down by this, as the relatively small ensemble struggles to project any sense of festive intimacy from a harshly lit stage. Musically, however, they were on firmer ground. The opening half of the concert featured a double-bill of Bachs – first arrangements of Telemann and Palestrina by Johann Sebastian Bach, followed by a work from his cousin Johann Christoph Bach. First up is Jauchzet dem Herrn, an arrangement by J.S. Bach of a piece by Telemann. With the singers spread out amongst the orchestra, there’s a good sense of space, well balanced on the whole.
Settings of the Kyrie and Gloria by Palestrina, again in an arrangement by J.S. Bach, follows – the soprano vocals clear, the continuo keyboard of Malcolm Proud underpinning the whole, as the brass adds well-judged touches of colour. Palestrina wrote some of the finest sacred music and Bach’s arrangement shows that writing at its best.
The final selection before the interval is from the other Bach, Johann Christoph. Merk Auf Mein Herz, a motet for two choirs, finds the choir in good voice – although coming straight after the heights of Palestrina, it suffers somewhat by comparison.
The final, and most substantial, work of this evening’s concert Wiehnachts Historie, Heinrich Schutz’ 17th century nativity, with U.K. based tenor Peter Davoren in the role of the Evangelist. His strong performance was matched by Chamber Choir members’ soprano Kate Macoboy and bass Jeffrey Ledwidge, as the Angel and Herod, respectively. Macoboy, especially, stands out – her voice clear, her Angel is a pleasure.
Despite the bright hall and sparse staging, then, the musicianship just about manages to bring some festive life to the evening.
Telemann (arr. J.S. Bach) – Jauchzet dem Herrn
Palestrina (arr. J.S. Bach) – Kyrie & Gloria (‘Missa Brevis’)
Johann Christoph Bach – Merk auf mein Herz
Heinrich Schutz – Weihnachts Historie
Peter Davoren – Tenor
Kate Macoboy – Soprano
Jeffrey Ledwidge – Bass