This is the 30th Christmas Festival at St John’s, and it has been an exceptional one in terms of variety of repertoire, quality of performance and excellence of soloists. This penultimate evening featuring one of Bach’s greatest works precedes Handel’s Messiah on the 23rd and featured the superb Choir of Trinity College Cambridge and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Stephen Layton, with what can only be called the A-Team of soloists.
Trinity Choir has a very distinctive style, closely allied to that of Polyphony – not surprising of course given that they share the same director – the hallmark is in the ability to produce a sound that is polished, sophisticated and cultivated yet still manages to be almost raw when emotional nakedness is required. The ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Qui tollis’ both demonstrated this quality, and the contrast between the hushed, reverent close of the ‘Et incarnatus est’ and the blazing opening of ‘Et resurrexit’ was superbly done.
Katherine Watson and Matthew Truscott were a perfect pairing for ‘Laudamus te’ with Truscott’s violin weaving around Watson’s ethereal singing; their interpretation was quite daring, with some edge of seat moments in Layton’s very definite pacing of their performance. Iestyn Davies gave his characteristically expressive phrasing to ‘Qui sedes’ and he and Watson sounded wonderful together in ‘Et in unum Dominum,’ particularly in ‘Deum verum in Deo vero.’
Neal Davies is certainly today’s leading bass when it comes to this repertoire, and his noble, authoritative singing of the ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’ showed why. Gwilym Bowen’s sweetly plaintive tone was shown to good effect in ‘Domine Deus,’ and the OAE, as always, played with fervour for their conductor. Apart from Matthew Truscott’s first violin, we should also mention the superb horn (Ursula Paludan Monberg) flutes (Liza Beznosiuk, Neil Mclaren) and oboes (Daniel Bates, Richard Earle, Cherry Forbes) and of course the trumpets, led by the peerless David Blackadder.