Both the Bach Magnificat and Handel's Dixit Dominus are fairly rare excursions by their composers into the field of Latin church music. Bach composed his Magnificat (originally in E sharp) for performance on Christmas Day 1723 - his first Christmas in Leipzig. Dixit Dominus was an early work, which Handel composed in 1707 on a trip to Italy. It is heavily influenced by Italian musical styles of the time. Both works are scored for 5-part choir with two soprano parts, and both make virtuosic demands of the singers to brilliant effect.
Review by David Parry-Smith
Director of Music, St Mary the Virgin, Linton
A substantial audience gathered with excited anticipation at the prospect of Saffron Walden Choral Society's first baroque concert in the remarkable Saffron Hall venue.
Janet Wheeler conducted the combined forces of the Saffron Walden Choral Society and the Chameleon Arts Orchestra with her customary energy and committed enthusiasm for the music.
The performance of Bach's Magnificat in D major was spirited and generally well projected. At times the more complex part weaving by Bach lost clarity and some of the extended lines tended to lack a sense of direction running out of rhythmic energy. The wonderfully clear acoustic in the hall really brings the performers under the microscope - perhaps more so in works as familiar as these.
The five soloists were placed slightly awkwardly just in front of the conductor, making any visual contact between them and them conductor difficult. It is possible to arrange the stage more flexibly at Saffron Hall and perhaps that could be a consideration for future concerts. Carris Jones, mezzo-soprano, gave a fine account of her aria "He hath filled the hungry".
This concert really came to life, however, in Handel's Dixit Dominus. This is the first work we have from Handel in autograph score and it was written while he was still in Italy. However, the hallmarks that were to become familiar in Messiah are all there in abundance. The chorus rose to the formidable challenges of this piece with more style than in the Bach. The whole work came over as fresh and considered. Lines were clearer and the high range of many of the parts (especially the sopranos in the last movement - "et Spiritui Sancto") were thrilling to hear.
The solo singing from sopranos Helen-Jane Howells & Augusta Hebbert, Carris Jones (mezzo) and tenor James Atherton with bass Samuel Evans was always engaging. "Dominus a dextris" was particularly enjoyable displaying the solo group in colourful contrast against the stalking continuo accompaniment.
We look forward to many more concerts by the SWCS in this splendid new venue.