This charity concert (supporting the Cots for Tots appeal) filled St George’s Bristol with the sound of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor. There was passion in the performance of the St Michael’s orchestra and chorus, which was made up of a combination of doctors and volunteers. Had I not had a programme for the concert, I would have happily thought that this was a group of professional players and singers. They tackled the mass with relative ease and clearly put a lot of effort in to their performance, which made it burst at the seams with energy.

The St Michael’s Chorus and Orchestra sang and played alongside four professional soloists under the baton of the widely known David Lowe. He was engaging to watch, demonstrating command and a certain charming affiliation with the orchestra and singers. His style of conducting involved many different gestures, from pointing to mimicking playing the strings at one point. Having been a professor of singing at the Royal Academy of Music, he knew how to get the best out of all of the singers – professional and non-professional alike. The four soloists were Helen Swift (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Robert Murray (tenor) and George Humphreys (baritone). Robin Blaze had a wonderful purity to his voice, which was most detectable in his solo performances. His duets with Helen Swift were also interesting to hear with the female and male voice combining yet singing at similar pitches. It was a rare treat to hear a male countertenor sing in this piece, as so often the part is sung by a female alto.

The split entries in the choral parts were precise and the dynamics were moderated to just the right level so the orchestra didn’t overpower the choir and vice versa. Rather epic in scale, Bach’s Mass is the last large-scale piece that he finished in 1749 before his death the following year. It is regarded as a musical summary of his compositional career, employing as many of his stylistic features, techniques and devices as he could squeeze in. Bach’s ability to write seemingly never-ending phrases that somehow end up back in the right key never fails to amaze. It was amazing to see the St Michael’s chorus handle this so well as the different parts sounded technically challenging on their own, let alone being sung alongside each other.

The B minor Mass is a great piece for a big group to perform, as it has a diverse range of groupings giving lots of separate moments to individuals. The Benedictus was sung by tenor Robert Murray and accompanied by flute and organ. The flautist stood up to play the solo and gave what could have happily been a professional performance. The juxtaposition of the tenor voice and flute was particularly beautiful. This contrasted nicely with the two explosive Osannas either side of it, complete with timpani and a large, resonant sound that really created an impression.

Overall, this was a delightful concert and a polished performance. I think that the very nature of the concert being for charity led to a lot of feeling being put into the music and therefore making it an identifiable and friendly performance. Hopefully the St Michael’s chorus and orchestra will be back in St George’s again before long, as I look forward to see what they come up with next.