Paul Driver: Sunday Times
27.4.97 Merton Chapel, Oxford
Stravinsky, Bainbridge, Ockeghem

...a concert that was among the most satisfying I have attended in months. The deeper concert satisfactions come, I am sure, when programme and hall are precisely matched, when the acoustic space participated in the expressive space rather than merely bounding it. A choral programme at Merton Chapel lets one live in the music in the keenest way. But you can inhabit a cliché and find it exploding into the truth. This happened to me as soon as James Wood's New London Chamber Choir started on the Missa pro defunctis by Ockeghem. Even older than this earliest surviving requiem, the building lifted the music into the present with extraordinary immediacy. Perhaps there is no more convincing way for the past to be experienced than through such performances. Without the encumbrances of "authentic" instruments and relatively free from interpretative controversy - for singing cannot change beyond a certain biological point - they give us the sensory reality of former times with measurable exactness. The polyphony floats and soars and cadences for us just as it did for them. The weight of the present falls away; yet, in the ideal conditions of Merton Chapel, you feel all the more vibrantly yourself.
It was a truly beautiful account, but only part of a fascinating concept - a concert of interpolations. Wood conducted as far as the end of the Tractus, leaving the Offertorium until the concert's second half. The first continued with the premiere of Simon Bainbridge's specially commissioned Eicha, a setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah for mezzo-soprano (Jeanette Ager), chorus and double wind quintet (Critical Band). That happens to be the instrumentation of Stravinsky's Mass (1948), the first three of whose six sections opened the second half, leading into the Ockeghem remainder, which led, in turn, to the Stravinsky remainder.
The Bainbridge is one of his most characterful and and astonishing works. Born in London in 1952, he has a fairly low profile at home and abroad, and has been too little recorded, but is among the most profoundly original composers of our day. Wood's reading of this visionary score was masterly.