The Dunelm Consort presented their second concert of the year: Stabat Mater within the majestic setting of the Cathedral Chapter House this evening. The concert, centred around a setting of Stabat Mater by Italian composer Giovanni Pergolesi, featured solo appearances by countertenor Lewis Cullen; and soprano Hannah Cox. The soloists were accompanied by instrumentalists on period instruments, helping to create a more authentic representation of the period in which this spectacular work was conceived. The chamber ensemble, composed of both university students and professional musicians specialising in early music performance, included students: Nina Kumin; Laura Cooper; and Ben Mackey. The instrumentalists also provided a contrasting set of two works: The G major trio sonata by Domenico Gallo; and Antonio Vivaldi’s G minor trio sonata.

The concert opened with Domenico Gallo’s Trio Sonata in G major, performed by Clare Newitt and Nina Kumin on violin; Laura Cooper on viola; and Ben Mackey on the chamber organ. Written in three movements, the players created a homogenous transition between each, whilst providing the necessary momentum in energy and character. The dynamic contrasts were generally very well executed, which showed a clear level of musicality and proficiency in musical interpretation. There were some very challenging passages in the upper string parts which came across clearly and with much enthusiasm. I felt the Presto could have been performed at a slightly faster tempo, which would have helped to create a more comfortable or relaxed feel to this section.

Antonio Vivaldi’s G Minor Trio Sonata followed, which welcomed violist Laura Cooper to the ensemble. The Preludio highlighted the ensembles fathomed interpretation of close harmony playing through multiple suspensions, presenting the audience with a warm sound which filled the Chapter House; and showed a level of detailed understanding by the players with regards to musical phrasing and interpretation. Unfortunately, here, there was a slight issue with balance between the instruments upon entering the Allemanda, but this was rectified shortly afterwards. The slow movements were a relief to the rather hectic faster sections, and subsequently allowed the players to really delve into the rich sonorous tone of the instruments, and the lower registers resonated around the walls of the Chapter House. Throughout some of the more challenging sections, there were occasionally a few moments of rhythmical and intonation inaccuracy but generally the rhythms were very tight, and the tuning fine.

The final work of the evening: Giovanni Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater saw soloists Lewis Cullen and Hannah Cox take centre stage. Stabat Mater, one of Pergolesi’s most celebrated sacred works, was once coined ‘the most perfect and touching duet to come from the pen of any writer’ by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This was certainly true tonight. The use of two upper-voice soloists with strings and continuo is extremely rare, especially to have the opportunity to hear a live performance also. Stabat Mater is in twelve rather short movements, alternating between solo alto; solo soprano; and duet sections. The sound produced by both Lewis and Hannah was truly remarkable, with both voices complementing each other extremely well. It is unfortunate that at times the diction was less clear, which may have been the result of a slight balance issue between voices and ensemble. This was less noticeable in the higher register, when both Hannah and Lewis displayed extreme technical proficiency when landing on the higher registers. Hannah was able to float onto these higher notes with ease, providing the necessary amount of vibrato to colour the sound over prolonged periods. During the solos is was great to see such enthusiasm from the singers, conveying the music and text through their own interpretation and applying their own phrasing and dynamics, which mixed well with those of the instrumental ensemble. As we progressed through the movements, it was noticeable there had been some slight issues in tuning within the string section, especially in the upper register, however, the ensemble worked well together to minimise the effect of this.

The concert overall, was highly enjoyable, providing a unique opportunity to hear less well-known works with the early aesthetic provided by the period instruments. Special mention must go to vocal soloists: Hannah and Lewis for their superb performances, in the presence of a nearly full Chapter House. The contrast between the Trio Sonatas and the Pergolesi was also highly effective. Don’t miss out on the Consort’s next performance at St Oswald’s church on 14th March, featuring Vivaldi’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat; which promises to be a spectacular concert, with a large scale choir and orchestra.