A Fascinating Mix

MIKE WHEELER listens to a joint concert by Derby Cathedral Choir and Sinfonia Viva


Derby Cathedral Choir and Sinfonia Viva joined forces for a fascinating mix of Renaissance and baroque music - Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 2 March 2024.

For the first half, the choir, conducted by the Cathedral's Director of Music, Alexander Binns, was positioned in the Cathedral's east-end Retro-Choir, barely visible except from the west-end gallery, ensuring that Antonio Lotti's eight-part Crucifixus emerged as a disembodied sound, making the air hum and vibrate with the choir's finely-traced lines, and a perfectly-judged last cadence.

Later, the choir gave an equally-assured reading of Tallis's Salvator Mundi - the better-known of his two settings - opening out Tallis's airier textures. In Alonso Lobo's Versa est in Luctum, the choir tone had more of an edge, apt to its Spanish origins.

The orchestra's first-half contributions, interspersed among the choral items, began with the second of seven Fantasias for viol consort, the only surviving compositions by Antwerp composer Leonora Duarte (1610-1678). In a style comparable to that of English composers like Orlando Gibbons, it was played in Sinfonia Viva's own effective transcription for string orchestra, given a fresh, rhythmically crisp performance.

In the Suite from Purcell's music for Aphra Behn's tragedy Abdelazer, the Ouverture was robust, with a swiftly-moving second section; the Rondeau - Britten's starting-point for The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - was vigorous, with effectively softer episodes; the various Airs were springy, sturdy, languorous and sprightly by turns. Of the dance movements, the Minuet was graceful, the Jig bouncy, and the Hornpipe (using the traditional dance tune 'Hole in the Wall') as lively as you could wish.

To end the first half, the orchestra's director Sophie Rosa was the soloist in Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 3 No 6, RV 356, from his ground-breaking collection L'Estro Armonico. The interplay between Rosa and her colleagues sparkled, as each picked up cues from the other. After a gently-flowing second movement, soloist and orchestra ensured that the finale was full of Vivaldi's characteristic vigour.

The second half consisted of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, conducted by Alexander Binns, with soprano Fflur Wyn and countertenor William Towers. The Cathedral's girl choristers brought their firm, clear tone to the first and third movements - the duets 'Stabat Mater', and 'O quam tristis' - and the concluding 'Amen'.

The polyphony of the orchestral opening linked back to the Lotti, before being overlaid with the choristers' searching vocal lines. Fflur Wyn began her first solo number, 'Cujus animam gementem', with rather more vibrato than I expected, but this settled down later, and she brought plenty of rhythmic bounce to the movement. In No 6, 'Vidit suum dulcem Natum', her broken phrases at 'dum emisit spiritum' were genuinely touching, as was the sombre ending.

In 'Quae moerebat et dolebat', William Towers produced some suitably dark low notes and a ringing upper range, though with some disjunction between the two; his tone was more even across his range in No 7, 'Eja Mater, fons amoris', and his cadenza on 'doloris' was genuinely expressive, not simply a matter of vocal display.

Wyn and Towers were well-matched in their duets: incisive in No 8, 'Fac ut ardeat cor meum', and suitably restrained in the final number, 'Quando corpus morietur', with the choristers contributing a serene 'Amen'.

Above all, just as Pergolesi saw nothing incongruous in an operatic style taking its place in a sacred work, so this performance made no apology for doing the same.

The magenta lighting on the Cathedral's wrought-iron chancel screen added to the atmosphere, though it seemed odd to take the nave lighting down to a point that made it almost impossible for the audience to follow the texts and translations in the printed programme.

Fflur Wyn with Derby Cathedral Choir and Sinfonia Viva conducted by Alexander Binns at Derby Cathedral on 2 March 2024
Fflur Wyn with Derby Cathedral Choir and Sinfonia Viva conducted by Alexander Binns at Derby Cathedral on 2 March 2024

I look forward to seeing how the relationship between Derby Cathedral Choir and Sinfonia Viva develops in future seasons.

Copyright © 13 March 2024 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK



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