Dunelm Consort and Players boasts some of the most talented musicians in Durham, and their most recent performance of Bach’s Magnificat and Vivaldia’s Gloria was no exception.
The first of the great baroque duo was Bach’s Magnificat. This began strongly, with a spritely and optimistic theme in the orchestra. The violins and flutes were occasionally lost in the texture, but on the whole, this did not detract from the unity and richness of Bach’s orchestration. The chorus exhibited brilliant clarity and diction, producing an impressive sonority and blend of harmonies.
The first soloist of the evening, Hannah Cox, gave a confident and expressive performance, followed by Emer Acton who sang with wonderful sensitivity and gentle vibrato. This led attacca into No.4 Omnes generationes, where the full-force of the 5-part choir was unleashed. This was a particularly powerful moment, with the unrelenting celli motoring driving the tempo forward.
Other solos in the Magnificat included the rich tones of bassist Matthew Asquith and tenor Nathanael Thomas-Atkin. Thomas-Atkin also dueted with alto Lewis Cullen. Both voices complemented each other well but Cullen’s lower notes were sometimes difficult to hear, despite the muted string accompaniment.
After a dramatic pause, the chorus returned en masse for No.7 Fecit potentiam in brachio, a personal highlight of the programme. The choir’s diction remained clear despite the contrapuntal texture, accompanied by bright trumpet flourishes. The general pause was handled well by musical director Ethan Darby, which provided the intended dramatic effect.
More solos followed. Joy Sutcliffe also sang wonderfully and it was great to see a fresh face among some of the more well-known singers of the Dunelm Consort. This was accompanied by a gorgeous dialogue between flautists Ellie Knott and Georgie Proctor. However, the movement ended somewhat abruptly, perhaps the only noticeable mistake in an otherwise highly professional concert.
Sutcliffe was subsequently joined by Cox and Acton for a trio. The balance between the three was well judged, with each voice holding its own whilst complementing its counterparts. A special mention must be given to oboists Catherine Walker and David Hedley for their long, sustained- note accompaniment, which required amazing breath control and command of phrasing. The Magnificat concluded with full chorus, with the melody starting in the basses, travelling upwards through the parts before rippling back down again, a particularly lovely effect that the chorus brought out well. In sum, it was difficult to find fault with the ensemble’s performance in the first half of this concert.
The second half featured Vivaldi’s Gloria, which commenced at a bright pace with tight and crisp orchestral accompaniment. In the second movement, Et in terra pax, the chorus handled the lush harmonic suspensions with due delicacy, which was a delight to listen to. However I did feel that the movement began to lag a little as it went on.
Soloists for this work included Kirsty Dempster in Domine Deus, who showcased some lovely vibrato and phrasing. Dempster then joined forced with Rosanna Wicks for a duet. Their voices were well-matched and featured some lovely dynamic swells. Sutcliffe returned for Agnus Dei, accompanied by both orchestra and chorus. This was a particularly emotional moment and was performed with great sensitivity, musicality and all three forces were negotiated well by Darby.
The chorus were unfaltering in their professionalism during No.4 and No.5, with a particularly lush tierce de Picardie at the end. The ornamentation was handled well but was not always in sync with the orchestra, a minor flaw that can easily be overlooked given the wealth of musical talent on display. The Gloria culminated in an uplifting finale: a stunning end to a great concert.
Overall, this was an extremely impressive programme. Darby should be commended for his clear direction and attentiveness to both orchestra, chorus and soloists throughout. It was a shame that the audience was modestly sized for such a wonderful concert. However, given the limited rehearsal time for this concert, it is a true testament to the talent of each individual musician involved in this concert that they delivered such an impressive and memorable performance.