North London Chorus, St James’ Muswell Hill, review: ‘Continues to compel’

North London Chorus perform Mozart's Piano Concerto at St James Church. Picture: David Liney

North London Chorus perform Mozart's Piano Concerto at St James Church. Picture: David Liney - Credit: Archant

A joyous chorus managed to overcome the weather and deliver an outstanding performance on Saturday, reports David Winskill.

A sell out audience was enraptured by two of the greatest pieces of classical Christmas music delivered by a choir at the top of its game. First up was Bach’s Magnificat, which premiered 292 years ago in Leipzig as a setting for the celebration of the Annunciation.

It’s a joyous piece that starts with the light and airy Magnificat anima and recounts the wonderful (but burdensome) news given by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she will be the mother of the Son of God.

This joy was reflected in the body language of the chorus. They were fully engaged and despite the rotten weather, delighted to be part of this wonderful music making experience.

Predominantly written in Latin, the libretto goes into German for two of the choruses. Vom Himmel hoch is a rich tender passage with a full sound and the chorus were simply breathtaking in the delicacy of performance. In the later Gloria, their phrasing was brilliant and, with their crisp delivery they even managed to create a briefly sustained reverberation off the stone walls of the church.

The second work was parts 1, 2 and 3 of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. This was a magical performance for Christmas refusers like me, a painless reminder that the festive season is upon us.

Using an English translation of the libretto made the work more accessible; it is a fine translation, scans well and rhymes in all the right places. I’d now like to listen to a performance in the original German to test the theory that it better captures the piece’s sacred mood. Four soloists, including late substitute tenor Nicholas Scott, were outstanding.

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Conductor Murray Hipkin, sporting a jolly full Santa beard, continues to compel North London to better and better performances.