The intimate setting of St Margaret of Antioch, Crossgate, was very fitting for this chamber concert. The performance space itself was rather small, and the ensemble wasn’t separated from the audience by much distance, creating an informal atmosphere before the concert.
The evening’s programme was wonderfully varied, featuring arrangements of traditional Christmas items, alongside arias from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. There were also some larger items, an exciting example being Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 ‘Lamentatione’.
The concert opened with John Rutter’s arrangement of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, featuring Vocal soloists Becky Brookes, Catherine Bench, Will Emery and Rhys Rodrigues. Becky opened the concert with a solo verse that was particularly atmospheric, recalling the processional use of this advent piece in services. The piece was very varied and emotive, with the oboe countermelodies in the third verse being particularly expressive. The ensemble also stayed together exceptionally well given the separation of the soloquartet from the orchestra behind them.
Vaughan-Williams’ Two Hymn Tune Preludes followed, with the upper strings handing the stage seamlessly to the solo instruments as they break through the orchestral texture. The strings were never too dominant and the oboe sections were particularly well phrased. The second prelude followed, with violinist Ben Bucknall and flautist Rachel Blyth well balanced – especially given some very low material at times which was nevertheless very well projected above the orchestra. Next, bass vocalist Rhys Rodrigues executed J.S. Bach’s very difficult semiquaver vocal runs admirably in the aria Großer Herr und starker König, and although the difficulty of the space resulted in some timing issues, overall the instrumental parts were very successful, especially the very characterful ritornello sections.
A highlight of the first half was certainly Haydn’s Lamentatione symphony, and the opening movement especially was a great success. After a bit of a cloudy start, the orchestral sections were very accurate and framed the canti firmi in the oboe part very well without overpowering them. The contrasting section showed great dynamic control from the ensemble, with an orchestral ‘ebb and flow’ around the diminished 7th chords being particularly impressive. The slow second movement featured some of the most accurate playing so far, and Alex Bromwich directs this movement very sensitively. The third movement was also very well polished, especially in the strings, which had a lot of surprise and character, particularly with those accented chords towards the final cadence. The ensemble was also very visibly communicating here.
Tenor Will Emery followed with more from the Christmas Oratorio: Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet. The flute solos here were particularly well phrased, and despite some minor timing issues with the continuo part, probably due to the challenging geography of the performance space.
After a very nice interval, Remo Giazotto’s Adagio in G Minor (arr. Alex Browich) featured some very strong sectional phrasing from the violins. Violin soloist, Ben Bucknall, was highly accurate and made some difficult material look effortless. The orchestra supported this soundly while not being too prominent. Following this, there were two more excerpts from The Christmas Oratorio. ‘Nur ein Wink von seinen Händen’, with soprano soloist Becky Brookes, exhibited her very wide range and impressive command of the lower register, whilst still projecting over the orchestra.
The next aria, ‘Bereite dich, Zion, mit zäartlichen Trieben’, featured alto Catherine Bench. The vocalist projected remarkably well, and filling the space with very impressive diction. The oboist, Freddie Hankin, had very effective dialogue with the continuo part. The vocalist tended to rush slightly at the end of entries, mainly due to the difficulties of being so separated from the ensemble. Finally, John Rutter’s Christmas lullaby featured the vocal quartet. This was a very successful all-round ensemble piece, with the solo flute and oboe being particularly gripping. The climax of this work was when the soloquartet brilliantly executed Rutter’s unexpected harmonic twists in the unaccompanied verse.
Overall, this concert programme was very well prepared and there was something for all audience members (including plenty of mulled wine). Working with vocalists was a particularly successful venture, and following on from this very successful chamber performance, we look forward to DUPO Symphony’s exciting Michaelmas concert on Sunday 11th December. Buy your tickets here