Birmingham Bach Choir mark Passiontide, the final two weeks of Lent, with an inspiring revival of rarely performed choral works by Howells, Tallis, Leighton and more (30 March 2019, St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham).
The concert, which is part of the choir’s centenary celebrations, includes Antonio Lotti’s timeless Crucifixus, written in the early 1700s by the German-born contemporary of JS Bach, and two motets by Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, Ave Maria and Christus factus est.
Sixteenth century choral composers Thomas Tallis’ In ieiunio et fletu, and Orlande de Lassus’ Tristis est anima mea are also included, as is JS Bach’s better known and loved Ruht Wohl, first performed in 1724 in Leipzig, and taken from the second part of his St John Passion.
However, the heart of the programme lies in two 20th century small-scale masterpieces, both with a personal connection to the choir’s longstanding conductor, Paul Spicer.
Kenneth Leighton’s powerfully dramatic cantata Crucifixus pro nobis – a mini Passion for choir, organ and tenor soloist – was written for the choir of New College, Oxford in 1962 and Paul was a boy chorister in its first performance. The almost electrical charge of the music is heightened by the final movement, a setting of Phineas Fletcher’s beautiful words ‘Drop, drop slow tears’, being left completely unaccompanied.
The other great work in the programme is Herbert Howells’ extraordinary Requiem. Written in 1932, Requiem was originally intended for the choir of King’s College Cambridge, but never submitted and remained unpublished until 1980. However, elements of the piece later formed the core of Howells’ large-scale choral and orchestral work Hymnus Paradisi, written as a memorial for his nine-year-old son Michael, who died of polio in 1935. With its unusual structure, the searingly moving Requiem expresses not just deep grief but also eternal hope.
Paul Spicer studied composition under Howells at the Royal College Of Music, London, and went on to publish the definitive biography of the composer, Herbert Howells: Border Lines, in 1998.
Says Paul: “I shall cherish performing the Leighton and Howells again: singing at the premiere of Leighton’s powerful Crucifixus pro nobis was an unforgettable experience for me as a young impressionable boy, while Howells’ Requiem is one of his most powerful works and holds a special place in my heart.”
Birmingham Bach Choir: Music For Passiontide, with tenor Robin Morton, is at St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, on Saturday March 30.