BREMF – BREMF@Christmas – BREMF Choirs, Andrew Robinson, Deborah Roberts & John Hancorn (conductors)

An austere 14th century plainchant carol, ‘Resonet in laudibus’ (Let praises resound) set the scene as the BREMF choirs processed into the vast acoustic of St Martin’s church. It was to be an evening of resonance and joy. The BREMF Community Choir, directed by Andrew Robinson, enlarged upon the theme, telling the Christmas story in the 14th century English of ‘Gabriel, fram evene kingh’ (Gabriel, from heaven’s king). This lively choir clearly enjoyed singing with Middle English pronunciation and the repeated tune was given a sparkle by the bright descants of harpist Leah Stuttard.

Deborah Roberts and the BREMF Consort of Voices and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble brought a more sombre tone with Jean Mouton motet ‘Nesciens mater’ (Knowing no man) a motet that expounds the mystery of the virgin birth. The spacious church acoustic favoured the instruments and tended to mask the voices, which created a beautiful if unusual effect.

These rich sonorities played better in Giovanni Gabrieli’s ‘O magnum mysterium’ (O great mystery) and ‘In dulci jubilo’ (In sweet rejoicing) by Praetorius. The cornetti and sackbuts contributed a richly ornamented, ceremonial quality.

The main feature of the evening was to celebrate (almost) 400 years since the death of Heinrich Schütz. He brought the brightness of the Italian Baroque style to German music, as was shown in ‘Der Engel sprach zu den Hirten’ (The angel said to the shepherds), ‘Hodie Christus natus est’ (Today Christ is born) and in his richly ornamented version of the Magnificat.

Kieran White

Kieran White

The whole second half of the concert was devoted to Schütz’s ‘The Christmas Story’. Tenor Kieran White as the Evangelist narrated the Gospel passages in very clear German, sensitively accompanied on the chamber organ by Claire Williams. The BREMF Singers and a strong team of soloists added the various dramatic roles and commentaries. John Hancorn held it all together conducting the BREMF Players led by Alison Bury, who is always a guarantee of excellence.

Katy Hill

Katy Hill

The birth itself was dealt with quickly and announced in radiant tones by the angel, soprano Katy Hill. The real drama of the story comes from the reaction of Herod, sung with suitable fury by bass-baritone Stuart O’Hara and the terrible consequence, the massacre of the innocents, which White related with a well-judged pathos. Ironically, this was the most tender moment of the evening. The work then concluded with a happy ending. This was a serious kind of Christmas story, a beautifully realised musical sermon.

After all the tribulations of Covid, BREMF 2021 has still turned out rather well. The New Year brings the prospect of the BREMF Festival 2022. BREMF Young Artist Scheme and BREMF Live! will showcase all the newest young talent and we can look forward to some more BREMF Early Opera.

St Martin’s Church,
18th December, 2021
Rating: ★★★★½
Andrew Connal

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