Soloist vocals trump choral efforts
The Belfast Philharmonic Society ended its season on Saturday with the Ulster Orchestra in Fisherwick Presbyterian Church – on the face of it, an appropriate venue for the two programmed sacred works.
After a spritely Occasional Overture by Handel, conductor Stephen Doughty set about the first of those two spiritual works of the evening – Bach's Magnificat BWV243.
One of the great challenges of using a large choral society to sing this type of intricate, contrapuntal, vocal music is achieving the lightness and delicacy inherent in the writing.
The speeds and dynamics have to be carefully chosen to suit the choral resources. Contemporary approaches to the choral music of Bach tend towards smaller numbers of singers, as it is more authentic in sound.
With the lethal combination of an acoustic like Fisherwick, unfortunately you get a rather muddy musical mixture, not always totally under control, despite the best efforts of all concerned. The four soloists – Rebecca Murphy, Lynda-Jane Nelson, Brian McNamee and Aaron O'Hare – fared better than the choir in this performance, all from Northern Ireland but still at an early stage in their respective careers and vocal attainments.
John Rutter's Magnificat had more chance of success than the Bach. Its uncomplicated accessibility and attractively light style was joyfully exploited in this performance and the solo soprano part showed Rebecca Murphy's incipient musicality.