<<< << -- 4 -- Roderic Dunnett EMOTIVE POWER
Some of the most beguiling music in this Second Part of Wings of Faith, entitled 'The Transforming Spirit', comes in the scene between St Philip the Evangelist (the baritone Greg Skidmore, son of the conductor) and the Ethiopian Eunuch (the terrific young countertenor Matthew Venner), culminating in an evocative duet, with striking use by Joubert of a cor anglais obbligato, that builds to an impassioned conclusion ('God's servant, and out shield ...') and richly decorated concluding chorale.
This beautifully crafted scene is the perfect foil to what follows: a searing depiction of the conversion of the headstrong Saul -- whose snorting outbursts ('Stone them! Destroy them! Crush and crucify!') recall the furious, frenetic turbae or crowd choruses of Bach's St Matthew and St John Passions ('Crucify him!'). Saul's vindictive aria, delivered with awesome strength by the baritone Eamonn Dougan, is virtually an operatic scena, a striking tour-de-force with all guns blazing. This makes the stilled, unaccompanied passage in which Jesus calls to him all the more of a contrast, not least because Joubert sets the three roles of Jesus, Saul/Paul and Ananias (Nicholas Perfect) for baritones, producing from these voices some unusually differentiated 'equal' textures. We hear (in jangling percussion) the scales fall from Saul's eyes; the woodwind-decorated hymn of praise (a busy second fugue) pitting the now converted Paul along with the chorus, like a Bach sinfonia or concerto grosso, climaxing in grand-scale angelic 'amen's, is one of the most thrilling moments in the oratorio: here once again from Joubert we encounter choral writing of real power and stature.
Do we need the concluding scene and the Epilogue? Textually, perhaps, for they embraces St Peter's vision of a church to come. Yet this narrator-dominated scene could be argued to be dramatically less strong than the rest; and the visionary hymn with which Joubert concludes, two verses of John Chadwick's 'Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round', to the wonderful music by Orlando Gibbons, arguably adds little to the careful unfolding of this involving New Testament drama.
Yet the hymn undoubtedly has an emotive power: the lower-voiced soloists (ATBB) intoning the first verse yield place to the glorious welling-up of the concluding chorus, in which Joubert unites voices, organ and members of the orchestra, while the soprano soloist adds a farewell vocalise that beautifully complements the opening scene of the whole work.
It is genuinely thrilling to encounter a new sacred oratorio of this stature, and Jeffrey Skimore's marshalling of the choral (forces of all ages) produced some singing of the highest order, fabulously well caught by the curved recesses of the Birmingham Oratory, with their enhancing effect on the overall sound of this recorded concert. The wealth of individual detail from the orchestra -- Joubert provides gratifying writing for strings wind and brass alike -- contributed hugely to the variety and range of the work's impact.
Wings of Faith is a gold nugget -- or rather a whole golden garland -- and should be seized on with alacrity by other leading choral societies. For those with distinctive solo voices in their ranks, it could prove a godsend.
Copyright © 5 May 2007
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK
Details of Joubert's music are at www.chesternovello.com. The 'Joubertiade' continues until December 1007. For details visit www.johnjoubert.org.uk.
John Joubert's new Oboe Concerto will receive its world première by Adrian Wilson and The Orchestra of The Swan at Lichfield Cathedral on Thursday 12 July 2007.
A double disc of Joubert's chamber and instrumental music, featuring (amongst others) pianists John McCabe and Mark Bebbington and the cellist Anna Joubert (the composer's daughter) has just been issued on Somm Recordings SOMM CD 060-2.