Portsmouth Baroque Choir warmed up for next week’s Messiah with a programme of anthems From Lent To Easter, their appetite for such music needing large helpings of it to be satisfied.
Peter Gould moved from organ to guest conductor with Malcom Keeler featuring as a soloist and Hugh Potton came in to open proceedings with the organ introduction to Bach’s BWV 118, O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, its slow pulse resonating beneath the choir’s rising tide.
Holy Trinity is ideally designed for a choir of this size, the sound projected outwards and none of it lost sideways, and I’ve never heard them sound better.
The story from Lent through Easter and onwards runs the full range of emotions and Hosannah to the son of David by Weelkes was a forthright statement before the restrained and prayer-like Ubi Caritas by Duruflé. The sopranos reached powerful heights in Lotti’s Crucifixus, as they were to contiune to do throughout. Byrd’s Haec Dies was a celebration in the form of a ’round’ with the choir achieving a fine unity by being separated out.
Four lively, pacy anthems in a row at the centre of the programme began with Rutter’s Christ the Lord is risen again, then Gibbons and Stanford not dissimilar despite the 300 years between them and a big organ introduction to God is gone up by Finzi that generated bursts of great power, drama and deep rumbling from the organ’s lowest register.
Some respite was provided by the unfolding serenity that was spread about by If ye love me by Tallis, in what was, as Peter Gould remarked, a predominantly English set. Palestrina’s Dum complerentur was upbeat before several soloists, led off by alto Andrew Round and soprano Pru Bell-Davies, shared See, see the word is incarnate as a thoughftul meditation before the massed forces of all hands on deck, as it were, so close to so much maritime history, gathered themselves into Stainer’s I saw the Lord which, in its turn gathered itself to a tumult and blazes of light three times – the second of which was such that it convinced a fair proportion of the audience that it surely wouldn’t attempt to go any higher. I was, admittedly, very nearly one of them, but the wisdom of the moment of reflection, and some indication from the conductor or performer, as noted yesterday in the Menuhin Room, was never better demonstrated. One can applaud for as long as one likes so there’s no great advantage to be had by starting too soon ( !!! ). But they surely enjoyed it.
I’d be happy enough with Bach and Handel, Tallis and Byrd, from now until kingdom come. C20th religious music, perhaps like C20th religion some might say, often convinces me less possibly because it seems to me to be trying too hard to convince itself. One must not, however, be closed to it. Whatever it means, Holy Trinity was filled to great effect with some beauty, some power and some thundering sounds on an otherwise quiet, breezy summer Sunday afternoon at the other end of the quaint little boat ride across what can be treacherous tides.
Portsmouth Baroque go to Chichester next week at the top of their game and Messiah is 100% Handel and so full of confidence it could only be by Handel. There’s even the opportunity to have a feast at half-time, as Georg Friedrich himself would have enjoyed.