Event review: Croydon Bach Choir sings Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Saturday 19th March

By - Tuesday 29th March, 2016

There’s a lot that can go wrong in this one. Paul Dennis admires the pluck of Croydon Bach Choir

Photo author’s own.

You can never accuse the Croydon Bach Choir of lack of ambition. In Tim Horton it has a musical director unflinching in his desire to stretch the choir by tackling technically difficult pieces, and they don’t come much more technically difficult than Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. More than four years in the writing, Missa Solemnis has been variously described as ‘Beethoven’s least approachable score’, and ‘displaying Beethoven’s characteristic disregard for the performer’. Unsurprisingly, it is a work seldom attempted by amateur performers.

The work requires a full orchestra, four soloists and a substantial choir, and not least a setting large enough to comfortably accommodate them. Church or concert hall? That debate has raged ever since the work was completed, and not without good cause. St. Mildred’s church in Addiscombe was the venue for this performance, and to my mind and my admittedly untrained ears, it was a problematic choice. It was big enough, but maybe only just, and I’d suggest that it didn’t offer quite enough room to allow the work to breathe. The choir and four soloists were heroic in their efforts to be heard, but for me they were too often lost in the mix, which was a great shame.

The vocal soloists comprised the familiar faces, and voices, of Belinda Evans (soprano), Adam Tunnicliffe (tenor), Peter Brooke (bass) and Vanessa Heine (alto), all giving accomplished and polished performances. However, I can’t pass without giving an extra mention to Adam Tunnicliffe, whose execution of the sforzando elements of the score was outstanding throughout.

It’s a tough piece of work, physically and technically

In similar vein, the violin solo from Olly Sapsford in the Benedictus section was spellbinding, with the stately underlying pizzicato strings from the orchestra giving the movement a nod of acknowledgement by Beethoven to Bach. All told, the CBC’s Missa Solemnis was a treat. It’s a tough piece of work, physically as well as technically, and there is a lot that can go wrong during the eighty or so minutes of performance.

In Tim Horton, the CBC has a real gem of a musical director, and he shows huge confidence in his singers in the pieces that he chooses for them. It’s a confidence that isn’t misplaced and the choir always gives its all. I left the concert full of admiration and I’m already looking forward to the choir’s next production, Transatlantic Journeys, set for this summer. However, slipping on my Columbo raincoat, I have just one final question: why so little Bach in the Croydon Bach Choir’s repertoire?

Croydon Bach Choir’s summer concert, Transatlantic Journeys, takes place on Saturday 25th June at St Matthew’s Church, Chichester Road. For more information and booking, click here.

Paul Dennis

Paul Dennis

An award-winning journalist, Paul has worked on angling titles for much of his career, including 16 years as deputy editor of Angler's Mail and 4 years as editor of Total Sea Fishing magazine. He is a regular freelance contributor for a wide array of non-angling-related titles, author of two books on angling and a widely-followed authority on the subject.

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  • lizsheppardjourno

    Beethoven hated sopranos and wanted them to die for lack of oxygen.