Spring 2019

Review of Spring Concert: 16 March 2019

Baslow Choir’s Spring concert in Ecclesall’s marvellous All Saints Church was dedicated to the music of the Baroque. Though no-one could have known this when the programme was assembled, it was also dedicated to the memory of Robert Wright who, we were dismayed to discover, had died a few days earlier. Robert, a previous musical director of the choir, had for very many years been one of its most dedicated and prominent members. He approached his music, as he did life more generally, with infectious enthusiasm and a desire to give pleasure and enjoyment to others. He will be greatly missed. His untimely passing suffused the evening and gave to the concert a poignancy that coloured even the most joyous of pieces.

All the more appropriate then that the evening should begin with the some choice items from Handel’s Messiah: first, the gentle orchestral sinfonia, next the very moving “Comfort ye my people” and “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted” sung by the rich tenor voice of guest soloist Jeremy Dawson and finally, with the choir’s first entry, the joyful chorus, joyfully sung: “And the glory of the Lord”. Handel’s music, especially his Messiah, is the Baroque in its last and most splendid phase. And it never ceases to delight and uplift.

Telemann, in his day the most celebrated of German composers of the Baroque and certainly the most musically prolific, was the composer of the next item. Written in 1758, his Laudate Jehovah is Baroque in its latest manifestation. It is a marvellous work, especially its opening allegro. It was given a sensitive performance by choir and orchestra, rousing in the allegro, sombre in the largo and stately in the maestoso sections.

The choice of Schütz for the next item on the programme was especially interesting. Schütz was to prove one of the most important influences in the development of German music during his very long life. The Cantate Domino for choir and organ from his Cantiones Sacrae has about it the character of the madrigal, a musical form very much in vogue in Schütz’s early life. It betrays little of the austerity which was a feature of much German Baroque music written at this time (around 1625), coinciding with the devastating Thirty Years’ War in the very part of Germany where Schütz then lived. Choir and organ adapted well to this very different musical mood after the vaulting splendour of Handel and the stateliness of Telemann.

Italy was where the programme took us for the culmination of the first half, to that giant of the Baroque, Antonio Vivaldi. Almost an exact contemporary of Handel and Bach, Vivaldi provides musical uplift in many forms. His Credo, to which we were treated, is a wonderful example of early Vivaldi. Orchestra and choir gave a fine performance of this work but the honours must go to the exquisite Crucifixus sung unaccompanied by the four guest soloists in perfect balance. Invidious though it is to select one from the four, your reviewer feels bound to mention the stunning voice of soprano, Rachel Abbott. This is not to belittle in any way the purity of tone of the alto Olivia Shotton, or the lilting notes of tenor Jeremy Dawson or the rich bass (powerful in his upper notes) of bass baritone Daniel Sumner.

Purcell is England’s great Baroque master. This musical shooting star, who blazed while he lasted but departed life all too soon, contributed four very different pieces to the concert. Sarentino Strings, a quartet playing as part of the talented and locally recruited Allegranza Chamber Orchestra played two beautiful, if suitably spare string fantasias. The choir, with orchestral accompaniment and prominent roles for alto, tenor and bass provided by the evening’s guest soloists, performed one of Purcell’s most celebrated works: Rejoice in the Lord alway. A real joy! As was Purcell’s O sing unto the Lord for choir, orchestra and guest soloists, the other work in this four-piece reminder of Purcell’s genius.

The Baroque had started in Italy and it was perhaps appropriate that the concert should end with some late Italian Baroque, in the form of Pergolesi’s Magnificat. But, as the very informative programme notes informed, it is now thought that this work was composed by the otherwise little-known Francesco Durante, one of Pergolesi’s teachers! Suitably reflective of its subject, it is a magnificent gem of a work, to which all of the performers, now fully warmed to their task, gave full voice. A fine climax to the concert and a fitting memorial to Robert and his contribution to the choir.

Hidden for the most part behind the organ console, Andrew Cummings provided organ and, for the Vivaldi, harpsichord accompaniment and, as ever, Andrew Marples directed choir and orchestra with characteristic verve and good humour. It was a fine concert and well worth the moorland journey through wind and rain to get to it.

Bill Blackburn