This was lovely stuff. A full church, lit almost exclusively by candles, well heated (and boy what a difference that makes), and great music. It is a recipe
for goodness, and so it proved.
This was one of a mini-tour of Christmas concerts across the North of England by The Singers and The English Philharmonic, and a very well varied programme was put across terrifically by both band and singers.
Corelli's Christmas Concerto in F bounced along nicely, with the EPE's strings' articulation a particularly impressive feature... Vivaldi's 'Winter' benefited from much the same, and from a terrific solo turn from violinist Iona Brown, whose intonation and overall
musicianship were great to behold. She was clearly having a whale of a time doing it as well, which makes a huge positive difference in performance.
The band's best bit came with Georg Telemann's Concerto in E for Flute, Oboe and Violin. Haslam traded baton for Flute, Philip Cull played the Oboe and Brown
did the fiddling honours once again. The interplay between the three was terrific, each leaving sufficient space for the relevant solo lines and judging perfectly the relationship between virtuosity and performance. The EPE's playing behind them was also terrifically judged, and the whole was captivating. Very lyrical and the perfect thing for an audience freshly imbued with all the somnambulance that a glass of mulled wine provided.
So the EPE on their own were excellent. As were The Singers. Donald Halliday has a very well drilled choir, and it is much to all their credits that the fact
that there were only seven men in total was in no way allowed to imbalance the sound. Their first half renditions of Erbach's Resonet in Laudibus and an anonymously composed In Dulci Jubilo, both a cappella, were very well done. Their second half carols though were superb. A gorgeous, gorgeous version of the Coventry Carol, arranged by Kenneth Leighton, was beautifully sung, and forced the 500 or so people in the audience to listen in captive silence. The juxtaposition of music against the grade 1 listed
candlelit interior was fantastic. Ditto choir member Sarah Robinson's arrangement of Stille Nacht, which I reckoned was the best I've heard, a solo soprano taking the first verse over a bass drone, and a series of harmonies rarely associated with what must be one of the best known of all the carols once again lending a near-magical sheen to proceedings. Lovely.
The two carols the choir sang with orchestral accompaniment were my picks of the evening though. A new carol to me was Myn Lyking, arranged by
Richard Runciman Terry, and very simple, but very effective. Then, dear old Rutter. What Sweeter Music just gets me, I'm afraid. Experts who deride him are eejits. When the accompaniment is provided by strings as lush as these in this setting, and the choir does it so well, it's gorgeous, end of.
The emphasis, as always, on seasonal music considerably extended the repertoire for the Candlelit Christmas Concert Tour at Carlisle’s St Cuthbert’s Church.
English Philharmonic Ensemble, conducted by David Haslam, opened the concert with his own composition Fanfare for Christmas (A Boy Was Born).
A plethora of well-known soloists and instrumentalists provided something for everyone; the popular seasonal music as well as gems from the lesser-known made the musical Christmas stocking well filled.
It is of little wonder that Handel’s oratorio Samson (with words by Milton) achieved instant popularity at its first performance and the operatic soprano Suzanne
Manuel’s rendering of Let The Bright Seraphium, with the much-travelled trumpet player Anthony Thompson in support, raised every spirit in the audience to Yuletide level.
The equally well-known violinist Iona Brown gave her usual virtuoso performance of Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons, no less with the orchestra strings and continuo – with the evocation of cracking ice demanding the violins’ close attention and sensitive fingers and bow.
Less atmosphere but beautifully intoned was Telemann’s
Concerto in E for flute (David Haslam, Philip Cull – oboe d’Amore – and Ion Brown – violin muted) one of the composer’s varied and numerous concertos.
Vivaldi’s large-scale work of exaltation would take up much concert time.
The Gloria in D has operatic verve and fervour, the opening chorus with choir
particularly showing tonality and precision.
Corelli’s Christmas Concert in F brought tranquility with its Pastorale finale evoking the foregathering of the shepherds with luminous expectancy.
Sarah Robinson must be mentioned for her arrangement of Franz Gruber’s Stille Nacht, the much-loved carol originally set for voice and guitar on Christmas Eve 1818. Again the choir charmed the audience with R R Terry’s Myn Lyking, the organ accompaniment transcribed for strings by David Haslam.
Leighton’s Coventry Carol and Sir David Willcocks’s Come all ye worthy gentlemen was followed by Adolphe Adams’ Cantique de Noel arranged by David Haslam, with soprano Suzanne Manuel filling the church again with operatic brio.
Audience throats were cleared for two carols – always a feature of this very popular and wide-ranging concert series – which ended with a Christmas selection from Messiah.
ARTHUR C WILLIAMS