National Concert Hall Music Review
chamber choir ireland
national concert hall, dublin
Under artistic director Paul Hillier, Chamber Choir Ireland -- until recently known as the National Chamber Choir -- joins the Irish Baroque Orchestra for this 'Baroque Christmas' concert.
Avoiding what might be termed 'traditional yuletide fare', the main work draws us into Weinachts-Histoire (Christmas Historia) by Heinrich Schütz, first heard in Dresden, where the composer was Kapellmeister, in 1660.
Weinachts-Histoire shows definitive signs of Lutheran austerity. Some of Schütz's instrumental colouring maybe indicates the dark interior of St Mark's Basilica in Venice and mellow toned violas accompanying the Angel's 'Good tidings of great joy' seem less than jubilant.
However, in itself the Schütz is an interesting work and, given the quality of its performance at the NCH, is well worth its revival.
Much of the piece rests on the role of the Evangelist -- here the superbly artistic Peter Davoren who colours his voice impeccably to suit the various instances in the telling of the Christmas story.
Breaking up the narrative, Schütz inserts a series of 'Intermedia' that highlight the scriptural texts or comment upon them. Chief priests and Scribes recount the nativity prophecies over sombre trombones, while brighter cornetti glide gently as 'he [Herod] had privily called the wise men'.
But there are other delightful instrumental touches elsewhere to enhance the 'modified rapture' of some of Schütz' choral settings.
Before Weinachts-Histoire come other unhackneyed pieces by Bach/Telemann, Palestrina/Bach and Bach's uncle Johann Christoph who was town organist in Eisenach when the boy Johann Sebastian sang in his choir.
With conductor Paul Hillier ingeniously intermingling the IBO musicians among his choir's sixteen voices, the end result ensures homogeneous balance.
The same effect manifests itself in the hybrid cantata Jauchzet dem Herrn (Make a joyful noise to the Lord). Attributed to Bach and with arrangements of his contemporary Telemann, the choir and orchestra's nimble attack gives this buoyant opener a celebratory air.
Bach's arrangement of two sections of a Palestrina Missa sine nomine has the voices of the Kyrie in gravely dignified procession while the Gloria continues this rather doleful trend. Maybe this is Bach honing down Palestrina's Latin glitter but the consequences veer towards the funereal.
Still, there is undoubted beauty in both substance and interpretation in this unusual programme.