On Tuesday evening in Durham Cathedral’s Chapter House, Dunelm Consort and Players performed a programme comprising motets by L’Heritier and Gombert alongside Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Repsosories for Maundy Thursday. Established in 2015, Dunelm Consort specialises in early music and is formed of students from within the university as well as external musicians. Clearly a carefully crafted programme, the repertoire provided a surprising insight into Renaissance music and unusual harmony. Overall, it was a beautiful performance.

Opening with music by the French composer L’Heritier, the exceptional quality of singing from the ensemble, brought together by clear communication from their conductor, Matthew McCullough, immedately engaged the audience. The ‘Surrexit Pastor Bonus’ set the tone for what was an excellent evening. Each individual singer sang with commitment that led to an incredibly captivating performance. The ‘O Clemens, O Pia’ demonstrated good ensemble work, with well-coordinated tutti entries which were hard to command given the number of singers and less forgiving acoustic; only towards the end did intonation slip marginally. The final ‘Nigra Sum’ was stunning; the beautiful tone quality of each voice group was projected wonderfully. On occasion the tenors were slightly too loud and unsettled the balance. Overall, however, the L’Heritier was excellent and the intricacies and difficulty of the music were tackled with ease.

each individual singer sang with commitment that led to an incredibly captivating performance

A smooth transition from the L’Heritier into a similar sound world; the Gombert was equally impressive. Consistently fluid phrasing created seamlessness between the parts whilst also highlighting the different lines and their relative importance. With the increasingly complex harmony toward the end of the ‘Lugebat David Absalon’, intonation became less convincing, but the warm tones from the singers distracted from this aspect. The ‘Media Vita in Morte Summus’ also featured great coherence between parts, creating a unity within the ensemble that was required. The ending was so perfectly balanced, with a delicate dynamic, elegant phrasing, and unison finish that the entranced audience remained silent for a long time.

The ‘Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday’ showed a more expansive rhythmic range in an otherwise lovely but homogenous programme. The ensemble demonstrated an energetic versatility that maintained atmosphere and intent. On occasion, rhythmic clarity was lost, but the challenging acoustic of the Chapter House could easily be made accountable for this. Solo entries from various members of the choir were executed with poise, and the ensemble in its entirity achieved an extremely quiet dynamic when appropriate; an impressive feat for a choir of that size.

energetic versatility that maintained atmosphere

This concert was an absolute joy to listen to. It was a fantastic programme, performed in a setting with a very resonant acoustic which complimented the skill of the ensemble rather than masking errors. Congratulations to all the performers and their director, Matthew McCullough.