bach at Lichfield

Christmas Oratorio

Lichfield Cathedral


If you were planning to hold a celebration of any kind, then there can be no more a prestigious venue for the occasion than within the glorious space of the magnificent Lichfield Cathedral.

Here it was the host celebrating the 30 year collaboration between the esteemed choral conductor Paul Spicer, and the Birmingham Bach Choir.

The relationship began back in 1992 after previously working with Bach Choirs in Chester and Leicester, before beginning his musical training as a chorister at New College, Oxford.

In addition to his choral work he is also a teacher and composer and through his long established career has taught at the Royal College of Music, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and the Universities of both Oxford and Durham.

It’s also fitting that this celebration took place at Lichfield, as he has forged a long association with the city being the former Artistic Director of the Lichfield Festival and the Abbotsholme Arts Society.

His Advent Oratorio, was also first performed in Lichfield Cathedral in December 2009. Not content with his list of achievements he is also a former Senior Producer for BBC Radio 3 in the Midlands, a lecturer and speaker and a Fellow of a wide range of institutions.


Paul Spicer, Birmingham Bach Choir Director of Music


Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, composed in 1734, features six cantatas of which four were performed at this recital. The work was first performed in 1735 in its original form and tells of the Christmas Story.

Besides the full choral work it features parts for five soloists. On the night they were Soprano, Sofia Ticciati; Counter Tenor, James Laing; Tenor, Daniel Auchincloss; Bass Baritone, Ashley Riches; and Tenor, Thomas Hobbs.

The music was provided by another well-established and competent Birmingham Orchestra, The Musical and Amicable Society.

Whilst this work by Bach was sung in German, the programme allowed for an English translation of the text to follow this complex piece. Beside the excellent choral pieces and the high standard of individual solo work, Thomas Hobbs stood out as the evangelist.

His performance was aided by the fact that his sections have very minimal accompaniment, allowing his clear tones to easily penetrate the cathedral space. The Aria and recital by James Laing in the third cantata was also especially good featuring the clear and crisp violin work of 1st Violin and Leader Kate Fawcett.

One of the most moving sections is towards the closing section of part six and the telling of the manager scene. This features mostly the choir alone and this reverent passage suited the location and perfect acoustics being situated under the vast cathedral ceiling.

Paul Spicers love of Bach certainly shines through in this enthusiastic and well controlled performance and whilst it may signal a close to a 30 year passage of time, it’s clear that there is a special relationship to the area, its musicians and Birmingham itself. In all the occasion , setting, music and performances made it a perfect opening to the Christmas season.

Jeff Grant


Index page Reviews A-Z