Bach - Christmas Oratorio - Exeter Cathedral

Devon Baroque and Exeter Festival Chorus performed J S Bach's Christmas Oratorio in Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 3rd December 2016. The performance was directed by Aidan Oliver.

The Exeter Festival Chorus did an excellent job and the soloists, Anna Patalong (soprano), Kate Symonds-Joy (alto), David Webb (tenor) and Benedict Nelson (bass) were all very good too.

The guest conductor, Aidan Oliver, had carefully selected a few movements to cut and intentionally omitted a number of D.Cs to curtail the duration of the Christmas Oratorio. Performing all six parts in one performance can make for a long concert. The conductor ingeniously directed the performance keeping the arias, choruses and recitatives flowing with the minimum of fuss inbetween movements - an essential element in performing any work of this magnitude.

Memorable instrumental moments came during obbligati played by Persephone Gibbs (Lead Violin) and later, Oonagh Lee (Oboe).

I particularly enjoyed performing 'Großer Herr' and the Chorale No.9 'Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein' which beautifully featured the choir and the trumpet section, consisting of: Russell Gilmour (1st trumpet), William Russell (2nd trumpet), Gareth Hoddinott (3rd trumpet) and Keith Price (timpani). It is a gloriously refined ending to the first cantata.

The second half of the concert was equally good and the concert continued to flow along nicely. Part 6 was a real thrill and the choir did an excellent job in these difficult choruses. I must also say a huge bravo to the gentlemen of the choir, just five tenors and eight basses in a choir of fifty - they did a great job in keeping fugal entries moving and they managed to balance with the more numerous sopranos and altos (who also sang brilliantly).

This was the first Christmas Oratorio of the season for me, and it is always wonderful to hear this music again. I try to avoid listening to recordings of it throughout the year in order to preserve it for Advent, so it is always a piece that brings back memories of wonderful tours, places, people and concerts.

Thanks to Devon Baroque, Aidan Oliver and to the Exeter Festival Chorus - Thanks also to the organisers for arranging this magnificent concert in this wonderful venue - and to the large number of people that attended the concert.

Russell Gilmour
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writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.