Bath Bach Choir: Venetian Vespers at Prior Park


Established in 1946 during the golden days of peace following the Second World War, The Bath Bach Choir has always prided itself on perfecting an extensive repertoire of sacred works and remains one of the city’s most popular choirs, thanks in large part to their passionate Musical Director of 26 years, Nigel Perrin. He began his musical life as a chorister at Ely Cathedral before a choral scholarship took him to Kings College, Cambridge, where he studied under the great Sir David Willcocks, later travelling the world and recording 25 albums as one of the original members of the highly acclaimed King’s Singers and leading the Bath Bach Choir in 1990.

This has been a particularly strong year for the choir; in March they joined forces with Exeter Festival Chorus (of which Perrin is also director) for two intense performances of the Rachmaninov Vespers sung in Russian, in darkness with candles and incense for added impact, and in the summer Bath Abbey proved a suitably imposing venue for their performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor, complete with an authentic baroque orchestra. Being a great admirer of Claudio Monteverdi, I was particularly excited when it was announced that the choir would be performing an authentic Vespers service (five psalms, four motets, a hymn and a magnificat) using pieces by several different composers who were all contemporaries of Monteverdi and influenced by him; Rigatti, Rovetta, Grandi and Legrenzi. Performed by candlelight at the glorious Prior Park Chapel with its impressive Corinthian colonnades, the audience was granted both an awe-inspiring and intimate experience.

The Bath Bach Choir

Alongside the opening Dixit Dominus and final Magnificat by Rigatti, the arguable highlight of the concert was the double-choir rendition of Nisi Dominus taken from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers – regarded as the most ambitious body of religious music prior to that undertaken by Bach. All the movements in this recital were accompanied by two violins, a cello and an organ; giving the an authentic flavour of 17th century Venice and encouraging us to imagine how a traditional Vespers might have sounded inside the walls of St Mark’s Basilica; a sense that was only enhanced by the wise decision to perform the concert without an interval. Although we sadly didn’t get to see Perrin conduct as he is currently recovering from an operation, the concert was guest conducted by the award-winning choral conductor Peter Leech, who displayed a strong rapport with the choir on the night; a remarkable achievement after only two rehearsals and in light of the complexity of the piece.

The 60 choristers did full justice to the magnitude of the concert, and despite the fact that some of the solo performances could have been stronger, the overall result was incredibly uplifting and well-pitched, particularly when it came to Monteverdi’s trademark split choir and call-and-answer responsorial vocals. Entirely joyous and melodic, it was a profound tribute to Monteverdi and his contemporaries who revolutionised church music for all time. Having been asked to refrain from applauding until the end of the concert, the audience appeared to have stored up their appreciation judging from the rapturous ovation following the final ‘Amen’.

The Bath Bach Choir will shortly commence rehearsals for their three Christmas Carols by Candlelight concerts taking place at The Pump Rooms on 14th, 15th and 16th December, which they have traditionally performed every year since 1947, and they are also hosting their popular annual workshop on the 28th January 2017, led by Nigel Perrin and offering a chance for would-be choristers to learn some important techniques and embrace a fun-filled day of song featuring Dvorak’s romantic Mass in D.

For more information on the Bath Bach Choir’s annual workshop and forthcoming concerts please visit the website.