The Durham University Choral Society provided a Baroque feast on Saturday 9th Decemeber, the in the beautiful Elvet Methodist Church. Led this term by Dr Katherine Hambridge, assistant professor in Musicology at the university, the choir was put through their paces with two challenging and engaging highlights of the baroque choral repertoire. The Choral Society was joined by the Classical Ensemble, following their successful collaboration last summer.  The showcase from both ensembles made the evening feel like a real event, and it was wonderful to be so immersed in baroque music.

Opening with Dixit Dominus, a complex and spirited setting of Psalm 110, the choir demonstrated its capacity for attention to detail and clear diction.  A great deal of the impact of the piece comes from precise phrasing and attack on consonants. The hard work that had clearly been put into diction allowed the drama of the piece to come to life. The Classical Ensemble were initially not as steady as I would have expected.  However, with the mammoth concert scheduled for the following day, it would be understandable if these players were a little under rehearsed.  By the Juravit Dominus, the ensemble was in a more confident flow.  The colouring achieved by the choir at this point made was also remarkable.

After an intermission, a fuller band comprised of DUCE members took to the stage alonsde the choir and the five soloists.  I was very excited to hear Wachet Auf, one of Bach’s famous chorale tunes, with all its trappings of biblical poetry and liturgical drama.  The piece was well chosen for its appropriateness to the Advent season, touching on the coming of Christ through interweaved parable and poetry from the Song of Songs.  It is a surprisingly intimate piece of music.  

Personally, I greatly appreciated the translated lyrics provided in the programme, which helped those of us in the audience not proficient in Latin or German to still be immersed into the nuances of Bach’s writing.  The cantata was well contrasted with Dixit with more of an emphasis on tone and colour, exhibiting a more emotive, tender side of baroque polyphony. 

The first chorale was brilliant, with a particularly lovely tone coming from the soprano section on their sustained notes.  Alex Akhurst delivered the recitatives well and with confidence, and the duets between Hannah Cox and Chris Knight were fantastic.  The only critique of these duets was that Hannah’s emotive engagement with the text was perhaps not quite matched by her counterpart.

David Hedley’s impeccable oboe playing really stood out, so many congratulations to him for a masterful performance.  DUCE clearly really enjoyed this piece, and it played to their many strengths.  Particularly in the second chorale they were wonderfully together to the credit of leader Robert Cavaye.  The leader showed gave some strong solos, and there were moments of lovely clarity and confidence, especially as part of the continuo trio accompanying the aria duet.

It was truly a pleasure to attend this concert.  DUCS often attract a varied audience, and it was great to see them continuing to introduce people to fantastic repertoire.  Some aspects of concert management might be improved.  Perhaps informing the audience of the intermission timings, either by announcement of in the programme, would put them more at ease.

Overall, DUCS and DUCE should be extremely proud of this collaboration and I hope these two societies continue this fruitful partnership.  I also wish DUCE the best of luck with their magnificent programme on Sunday night.