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Ludus Baroque, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Ludus Baroque's annual presentation of JS Bach's Christmas Oratorio has become something of a staple over recent years, although this was the group's first performance away from their traditional Canongate Kirk home.

As director Richard Neville-Towle pointed out in his brief introduction, the change of venue brought with it a new, drier acoustic, which would serve to reveal more clearly the intricate layers of music. Most of the time this was positive, with the tutti sections gaining an enhanced clarity and impact that readily conveyed the joyful mood central to the work. In more exposed orchestral passages, the players, wrestling with the vagaries of their period instruments, missed the forgivingly reverberant environment of the Kirk. Musically, the instrumental sections felt in need of the homogenising effect that a more generous acoustic would have provided, particularly in the gorgeous Sinfonia at the opening of the second Cantata.

These minor phonic issues aside, Ludus Baroque gave a performance of impressive vitality, range and power. A stellar line-up of soloists, including Katherine Manley (soprano), Tim Mead (alto), Ed Lyon (tenor) and William Berger (bass), all acquitted themselves with unwavering energy and skill, and the chorus sang with uplifting confidence. At the helm, Neville-Towle was the driving force, sure-footedly leading the ensemble through Bach's opus, and providing constant inspiration with his obvious passion for the material. His commitment to authenticity was also admirable, taking the opportunity offered by the larger venue to present the work in a polychoral setting, which gave an appropriately dramatic character to what remains a compelling narrative.

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