The choir’s repertoire ranges from the Renaissance to the present, and often features unfamiliar, challenging works. Saturday’s concert was typically fearless, taking the audience on a journey through 17th century Europe with pieces by Monteverdi – including the joyful Vespers of 1640 – and the lesser known Heinrich von Biber and Matthias Weckmann. In the exuberant Vespers, conductor JanJoost van Elburg ensured a consistently warm, flowing sound from the choir, which exhibited a high level of technical mastery and easy confidence throughout. However, the piece would have benefited from some stronger solo contributions. All the solo parts were taken by members of the choir, and although there were some good clear voices among them, they were standing too far back to have sufficient impact. But the choir had some suitably magnificent moments, from the imposing Dixit Dominus and the striking Beatus Vir, to the jubilation of Laudate Dominum, before resolving into a glorious Magnificat.

Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa was a complete contrast. Drawn from his eighth and final book of madrigals, this was a moving piece, brought vividly to life by the exceptionally fine, dramatic singing of soprano Esther Levin. Ms Levin’s vocal purity, emotional energy and sensitive phrasing combined to make this a stirring and memorable experience. Von Biber’s Requiem in F minor is an extraordinary piece, full of melodic and rhythmic inventiveness. Once again Esther Levin shone, this time in tandem with fellow soprano Catherine Bass, and the pair shared some wonderfully thrilling vocal moments. There were sound contributions, too, from counter-tenor Simon Clulow , tenor Luke Phillips and bass Roger Williams. The authentic period instruments of the Reading Bach Consort added depth and tonal colour.

Nicola Lisle

Oxford Times 5th February 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of the Oxford Times.