Review: Portsmouth Baroque Choir – Music for Lent

Portsmouth, 18 March

One thing we don’t give up for lent is music. It’s best to give up non-essentials. I don’t give up Music in Portsmouth, either, without which I might have walked to Southsea on a fool’s errand unaware that the concert was moved to this venue. Where would I have been without it? Southsea, obviously. 

It’s a westward walk from my house and I was aided in finding it by following yonder star, Venus, inappropriately referring to a different festival but conveniently giving directions. The change was made, I found out, due to St. Saviour’s having heating. Portsmouth Baroque always make a warm sound. One of their other features is the way in which director, Malcolm Keeler, finds lesser-known repertoire.

J.S. Bach is well-known enough, though. His O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht was introduced by Peter Gould’s ambulatory footwork that steadily paced throughout the piece beneath extended soprano lines.

His cousin, J.C.’s Fürchte dich nicht was followed by excursions into Aus tiefer Not by Michael Praetorius in which the divergent parts became one to finish and Peter provided an organ account of the same by Johann Sebastian before the programme gathered momentum with his predecessor in the Leipzig job, Johann Kuhnau’s, Trisis est anima mea, immediately more sombre but with some soaring soprano lines generating quite moving melancholy and then the Credo in F by Antonio Lotti changed up a couple of gears with a rhythmic, more characteristically ‘baroque’, and bigger, sound. It’s not everybody that can set words like ‘consubstantialem’ quite so effortlessly to music.

In the second half, Charpentier’s Le Reniement (Denial) of St. Pierre featured what was probably the high point with the 4-part ensemble drama of, Non, non sum, vere non eram, the choir having resources enough to distribute six solo parts from within its own ranks who performed impressively although, to be overly picky, the ‘vere’ seemed to get literally lost from the text translation. Really. The piteous consequence of the ‘non sum’ denial did nothing to suggest that there shouldn’t be more performances of Charpentier wherever they can be made available.

It’s possible Bach’s reputation wouldn’t be what it is now without Mendelssohn’s C19th advocacy and Peter’s second half interlude, the first movement of his Sonata no.3, was surely a tribute and owes a debt but one was taken with some fancy footwork on the pedals that led into its final passage.

Caldara’s Stabat Mater was written in 1725 when Pergolesi was 15. They both died in 1736, the younger of them far too young but not before he’d improved on it. Caldara’s account augments the text’s rhyme scheme of AABCCB with a succession of ‘dying falls’ but the poetry, or the perceived power of redemption generated by the injuries and suffering provide the balm that the Portsmouth Baroque Choir are especially adept at providing.     

There was plenty of it, about an hour and a half of music presumably all put together and rehearsed since Christmas and they’ve got two concerts to do in early July, the second of which is Messiah. There’s no rest for the wicked (Isaiah  48.22). There doesn’t appear to be much for the righteous, either. It does them great credit.

David Green

Ian Schofield has also written:

“We both enjoyed last night’s concert. I enjoyed the opening Bach number, very melodic and made a really good start to the concert. I especially liked the Caldara Stabat Mater, I thought the altos were very nimble (and together) in the quite athletic solo number and there were some very neat short trills from the sopranos – yes, would be good to hear this with strings and trombones [the original orchestration].
The men’s lines have benefited from additional voices and sounded very confident and secure even in double choir formation. Congratulations to the soloists in some quite challenging passages of Charpentier.

“A goodly sized audience and a great venue (hard seats aside) too, probably a slightly biased view because it’s quite easy for us to get there.”

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