For the centenary of Sir Hubert Parry’s death, an enormous 250-strong collective of musicians from Durham University Orchestral and Choral Societies, Durham County Youth Choir and Durham Cathedral Choir and Consort of Singers assembled under the daunting canopies of Durham Cathedral for an evening of superb music by Parry and his contemporaries.
After a slightly bedraggled entrance, the concert began precisely on time. The first number was the celebrated I Was Glad. The choir and orchestra quickly demonstrated the necessary power for this work and with wonderful legato. Although I felt the choir could have sung with more passion and the diction was not always together, the balance among the parts was well-judged.
Next came two songs from Charles Villiers Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet, sung by baritone Peter Dunn. Dunn demonstrated great poise and phrasing, and projected far into the packed audience. I could not always hear the lower notes, but his diction made the text abundantly clear. The pauses were just right, working with the Cathedral’s echoic acoustic. Occasionally the latter led to a slight lag in the choir, though the rapport between soloist and ensemble was unquestionable. The use of dynamics in both ensembles were very sensitive and the crescendos in particular were rivetingly controlled.
This was followed by Three Shakespeare Songs by Roger Quilter, sung by soprano Emer Acton. Emer conveyed the moods of Shakespeare’s sonnets to Quilter’s setting very movingly, with stunning legato. Perhaps some phrases could have been held unbroken for longer, with some more immediate power on climaxes. However, her use of vibrato was beautifully judged. The orchestra produced fantastic dart-like articulation where necessary, and although the occasional imitation of the singer’s line could have been brought out a little more, they were always sensitive to the soloist.
The programme then returned to Parry’s Idyll from his Suite Moderne. The orchestra was consistently responsive to their conductor Alex Mackinder’s direction, and always very together. The melody flowed between the orchestral instruments without falter. Occasionally a part would come out of the texture a little too much but is promptly responded to by Mackinder. The exaltant Blest Pair of Sirens was the finale to the first half. Although it was a little difficult to hear the text from the choir, the pace was fantastic.
The cymbals, played by Anna Gonzalez, were shimmeringly accurate, and, with a great flourish from Rhys Rodriguez on the timpani, the piece was concluded.
The second half began with Parry’s less familiar Never-Weather Beaten Sail from Songs of Farewell, sung by the Cathedral Choir and Consort of Singers, conducted by Daniel Cook. This short but touching piece, composed at a time when Parry was distraught at the occurrence of the First World War, was sung beautifully, with sensitive suspensions and balance, despite the occasional intonation issues in the treble part.
Next came another currently lesser-known work, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, conducted by Professor Jeremy Dibble with solos by baritone Peter Dunn and tenor Rob Singleton. The communication between these three was secure, and the music always had great pace, tension and direction.
Both Dunn and Singleton expressed the text well with emotionally charged singing in this very long work. The balance between choir and orchestra wasn’t always matched and occasionally went out of sync, but the wonderfully resonant cellos and basses were especially welcomed.
The concert concluded with the immutable Jerusalem, for which Professor Dibble requested the entire audience to stand and join in with the words written on the back of the programme. The piercing intonation of the orchestra and passionate, patriotic atmosphere was incredibly moving and concluded the evening in memory of these most patriotic of composers with a bang. As the participating audience were already out of their seats, the musicians were conveniently greeted with a standing ovation.
DUOS’ next performance is in the Cathedral on 1st June as part of the Music Durham annual concert, and you can hear the Cathedral choirs regularly during the week. On the basis of this performance, these are all opportunities not to be missed!