Review: York Early Music Christmas Festival, Yorkshire Bach Choir, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, December 8

YORK’S Early Music Christmas Festival was given a rousing, seasonal start with an insightful performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

Bach’s word painting is not often projected so convincingly: right from the festive opening, director Peter Seymour found a distinct and appropriate mood for each movement, and from these fashioned long, coherent paragraphs.

Variety of characterisation in the angels’ chorus, for instance, clearly registered that glory to God, peace on Earth, and goodwill are three very different concepts; the shepherds’ dancing, quietly joyous response during the ensuing chorale was deeply moving.

Jonathan Hanley’s evangelist recitatives told an expressive and nuanced story; his control in passage work during the tenor arias was utterly convincing. Bass Frederick Long’s intense responsiveness to those around him was charming; Bethany Seymour’s controlled soprano was well-matched. Nancy Cole’s mellow rich mezzo-soprano lent extra poignancy to Schlafe, Mein Liebster, often a lullaby but here a compassionate exhortation to a child already asleep.

The Yorkshire Baroque Soloists demonstrated en bloc their customary artistry; among them, Niels Tilma’s many jaunty and important trumpet solos and Lucy Russell and Nia Lewis’s synergistic violin duet stood out. The Yorkshire Bach Choir were on good form as usual, too.

The gentle one-in-a-bar lilt of the shepherds’ Pastorale suggested a balmy climate, only the audience’s coughing indicative of the ambient British winter. But within ten minutes, silence indicated rapt total engagement. Although it wasn’t Bach’s intention that an audience listen to the whole thing in one go, this was a thoroughly involving event.

Robert Gammon