On the evening of Sunday 29th February, the Dunelm Consort and Players returned to perform an incredible evening of Bach in the surroundings of Castle’s Great Hall. The concert featured some of Bach’s greatest works, including the Easter Oratorio, the Double Violin Concerto in D minor and a cantata written in 1714 for Jubilate Sunday entitled Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen. The Dunelm Players, made up of some of the university’s best orchestral musicians, performed alongside the Dunelm Consort, a chorus of 14 singers (many of whom are choral scholars of the Cathedral) and were conducted by Jonathan Allsopp, a second year Music student and current Director of Music for Hatfield College.

The concert was well programmed and there was a good flow to the music, with the overrunning theme of ‘Bach for Lent and Easter’ providing a fresh but reflective mood.
Throughout the concert, you could easily forget that you were listening to a student ensemble performing these wonderful pieces of music, as the standard of the performers was so impressive and the level of emotional maturity and beauty to their playing was incredible. It was clear that these musicians were all very accomplished, and all of these works truly left the audience feeling renewed at the end of this concert.

Despite the incredible standard of the musicians involved, it did feel like the ensemble was slightly under-rehearsed, as at a few points singers’ heads were buried in their scores, and sometimes the soloists lagged a little as though they were not fully familiar with the music. However, I would be interested to see what this ensemble would be able to do if they had been given a few months extra to rehearse, as I’m sure they would easily compare with many professional groups performing this music if they were given the time.

The concert opened with Bach’s Cantata BWV 12: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, a moving piece written in 1714 for Jubilate Sunday (the third Sunday of Easter). The piece worked well in the acoustic, with the mood being well captured by the performers.
There was a lovely, flowing yet brooding feel to the music, which maintained interest throughout the longer, slower passages of this work. Allsopp kept a perfect balance between the singers and the accompaniment, particularly bringing out the best in these wonderful musicians as phrases were passed around very lyrically.
The soloists all gave very good performances, notably Lewis Cullen (counter-tenor) giving a brilliant performance, working well with the orchestra (although at times his lower registers were unfortunately not as clear to hear amongst the accompaniment).
The final chorale of the cantata was sublime, with all of the singers demonstrating their talent and ability to fill the volume of the hall with their magnificent voices.

The Bach Double Violin Concerto then followed, performed by soloists Holly Scutt and Hayley Lam, both highly capable violinists who have both led uni-wide orchestras during their time in Durham. The concerto was a delight to listen to, with the soloists producing a gorgeous sound between them.
The professionalism of this performance was clear from the start, with the soloists giving faultless performances, alongside the orchestra held together excellently by Allsopp.
The second movement of the concerto worked particularly well, maintaining the spring-like feel to the concert. The soloists were well synchronized with each other throughout, particularly in the swift triplet sections of the third movement, as a good energy was maintained.
The concerto was marvellous to listen to, although my only comment would be that greater detail could have been made in regards to variation in dynamics, but in honesty the performance was captivating enough that this would only add a small amount to an already brilliant rendition.

The concert concluded with the Easter Oratorio, which was very well performed on the whole, with the strings in particular being the stars of the show, sounding very bright in livelier movements, and beautifully longing at other points. The definite highlight of the oratorio was the Aria performed by Emer Acton, with beautiful soaring melodies sung with an incredible clarity. Twinned with an amazing performance from Claire Crinson Graves on flute this aria was truly very impressive.

Unfortunately, some movements of the oratorio were let down by tuning between the wind, mainly in the trumpet section, due to the fact the musicians were playing on different instruments, with some on the baroque trumpets that were originally intended for the music, and others playing on more modern instruments. This unfortunate difference between some of the musicians led to some noticeable inconsistencies in tuning, however on the whole it did not detract too much from the overall performance.

Overall, a very professional and enjoyable evening was had, and it was a delight to have witnessed these individuals do such justice to the beautiful music of J.S. Bach. For such a truly brilliant concert, it did leave me saddened that the few spare seats in the audience could not have been filled, as this concert was truly a gem, and leaves me hoping that their next concert will sell out, as it rightfully should.