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Bach to basics
WHEN Johann Sebastian Bach completed his mighty Mass in B Minor he was putting down a marker for stand out excellence for generations to come.
And music lovers in the North-East will have the opportunity in a fortnight to hear a fresh and stimulating performance of one of the greatest works in Western music, performed in the glorious setting of Durham Cathedral.
The masterpiece will be presented by the Durham Singers, accompanied by their professional period instrument orchestra, The Durham Singers Ensemble.
Durham Singers' musical director Dr Julian Wright said: ''For me personally it is a very different challenge to Handel's Messiah (which we performed last year) because it is far more virtuosic for everyone concerned.
''The Messiah communicates really directly, spontaneously, to anyone who is listening to it and it's a kind of work that is much loved.
''Now this (the B Minor) is a work that is much loved for different reasons.
''It is exciting, virtuosic and challenging - one of the greatest works in the Western canon.'' He added: ''There are fewer moments in this work where you can really bring people in in a warm emotional way, like you can do in some of the slower movements of the Messiah.
''There aren't many heart-on-sleeve arias or all-embracing populist fun moments, of just straightforward joy.
''What there is, is a real excitement in the faster sections and a real focus and intensity in the slow movements.'
''The concluding Dona nobis pacem stands on its own really, as a sort of universal statement and one of the things I particularly forward to developing this with the choir.'' The young soprano soloist Rowan Pierce, a rising star who many will remember from last year's Messiah, and who recently delighted audiences in The Marriage of Figaro, will return to the region from her studies at the Royal Academy to sing in this concert.
She will perform a duet with tenor Scott Richardson, who has sung with the Rodolfus Choir - directed by Ralph Allwood and comprising young people who have completed Eton choral courses - as well as with the Tees Valley Youth Choir.
Rowan's Figaro co-star Nick Morton, recently a member of Durham Cathedral choir, will sing one of the bass solos. Other solo parts will be sung by members of the choir, showcasing the considerable talent among its singers.
This will be the choir's fourth concert with the Durham Singers Ensemble, a small orchestra drawn from some of the best period instrument specialists in the UK.
Explaining the advantages of using period instruments with the choir, Dr Wright said: ''The Mass in B Minor is a piece which shows Bach developing the art of choir and orchestra, writing to a height of virtuosity and subtlety that was exceptional.
''And the lightness of the period instruments against the voices of a medium-sized choir will really allow all the beauties of the score to shine out.'' The artistic and organisational developments made by the choir over recent years, combined with a new project to encourage schoolchildren to come to concerts free of charge, have resulted in the Durham Singers receiving a grant for this concert of £2,000 from the Arts Council Lottery Fund.
Choir chairperson Sue Shaw said: '' In a year when arts budgets have been cut significantly we're delighted to have received this support from the Arts Council as well as a grant from the W A Handley Charity Trust.'' Durham Singers, JS Bach Mass in B Minor, is on Saturday, October 22, 2011, at 7.30pm, in Durham Cathedral. Tickets are priced from £10 to £18 with discounts for concessions, and are available on 0191-332-4041 or at www.galadurham.co.uk.