“This concert features arguably the greatest English composer, as well as the greatest composer of all time” so said the Director of Music, Stuart Nettleship at the start of this ambitious concert given at the wonderful Unitarian Chapel in York.
The very appreciative audience were treated to an evening of high quality and high drama, and the rich, full sound of the choir was augmented by the warm playing of the string ensemble, led by Robert Webb, and harpsichord continuo played by Helen Jones.
The evening started with the beautiful Bell Anthem by Henry Purcell, with the sound of the bells clearly heard played by the strings. The choir complemented the trio well and the jaunty refrain “Rejoice in the Lord Alway” was a fitting start.
Komm süßer Tod was the first of three Chorales, harmonised by Johann Sebastian Bach and skilfully and sensitively arranged by Stuart Nettleship for choir and strings. The choir’s German pronunciation was nearly impeccable, and the singing was rich and full, and fully supported the gravity of the text, “Come sweet death, come blessed rest”
There was a brief interlude, whilst the choir was reorganised into 5 mini choirs for a performance of Immortal Bach by Knut Nystedt. This took the first part of the Bach chorale and then had all five choirs singing at different speeds, and coming together at various times in the chorale. The effect for the audience, who were sat in the middle, was extraordinary. The music started together, and then disintegrated with snatches of the original tune being heard from all round the church, before coming together again. For some in the audience it was indeed a fleeting glimpse of eternity.
Imogen Brewer played the Partita number 3 for solo violin and held the audience spellbound by her technical ability, but also by the sheer beauty of the music. This was music to shut your eyes to, and to catch a glimpse of something transcendent.
After the break the choir was joined by four soloists for a concert performance of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Two of the soloists are former members of the choir, Eleanor Audet and Katie Wood, and indeed Eleanor still sings with the choir whilst Charlotte and Ben Philip, the other soloists, are also known to the choir. Ben sang Aeneas with great skill, and managed to enrage at least one member of the audience, who thought he was an absolute rotter for his actions in the opera. Charlotte was particularly evil in her portrayal of the sorceress, whereas Eleanor’s clear and pure soprano gave a real beauty to the part of Belinda. But it was Katie who had the best tune, and she sang the famous lament so beautifully that many listening were moved to tears. “Remember me, but ah forget my fate”
The choir provided suitable backing for the soloists; at times they were courtiers or witches or hunters and even sailors. They adapted to the different styles well, and provided a good foil to the story. There were also five soloists from within the choir, and they sang their roles with great skill and panache, and mention should be made of the echo chorus, who offstage provided a very suitable and eerie echo.
This was an evening of at times challenging music but the Stamford Bridge Singers certainly showed their range and their versatility to produce a very enjoyable and profound evening of music by arguably the greatest English and the greatest ever composer.