Monday, 30 November 2015

Manchester Evening News review 30 November 2015

LANG LANG  Bridgewater Hall


MANCHESTER had another chance to witness the phenomenon that is Lang Lang. There are few other classical artists who can fill the Bridgewater Hall today, but his following is faithful and devoted – the gales of applause and final standing ovation showed that.

His playing was, as ever, absolutely stunning in technical skill and constantly challenging in its interpretative curiosity. It was quite daring, really, to begin with Tchaikovsky’s 12-part The Seasons. It’s not his greatest music – but it’s very characteristic of a composer full of the feeling of later Romanticism: sentimental at times, but often dramatic and occasionally inspired.

Lang Lang responds to the dramatic – that was obvious from the January movement onwards. He also loves the chance to play in big, bravura style – we heard that in February, September and November.

And often he can change the whole emotional content of a piece from what you might expect, without any deviation from the score, by using its rhythms, phrasing and cadences in a novel way. He turned August into a jazzy extravaganza with emphatic syncopations, earning mid-piece applause in its own right.

One thing I’m right with him on is his rhythmic freedom. That was the way pianists played for most of the 19th century and it’s a legacy of later ‘correctness’ that everything should be metronome-regular.

Bach, of course, is a different language. He played the Italian Concerto with bouncing rhythms in the outer movements and a little eccentricity – he was having fun – and an exemplarily eloquent arioso between them.

Finally he moved into some of the greatest piano music written, in all four of Chopin’s Scherzos. Most piano soloists tackle just one to show off: he powered through them, with often exciting and also meltingly beautiful melodic playing, sometimes weird in its interpretation of the written expression marks, but always holding the audience in its spell.

The last two held the best playing of the evening, showing affection for the music, not just showmanship, incredible virtuosity, and an ability to find beauties in the writing that even Chopin may not have suspected he’d created.


Robert Beale

Manchester Evening News and Manchester Theatre Awards review 29 November 2015

CARMEN Opera House

ELLEN KENT’S touring opera company was back at the Opera House for two nights and offered two of the repertory ‘standards’ she has brought so often in the past. I saw Carmen (Tosca came first) and it delivered in full the audience satisfaction that is always her big selling point.

There’s one set, a hemispherical classical-style entrance to something, that does duty for every scene in both operas (a bit incongruous when we’re supposed to be in Pastia’s bar in the second act of Carmen, or out in the countryside in the third), but it helps reflect the voices into the theatre.

The company is essentially very small, but the hard-working group of chorus singers are accompanied by adult and child walk-ons from Stagecoach who manage to fill the stage quite effectively in the final scene outside the corrida, and the costumes (in that scene in particular) are colourful.

There are just eight principal voices, as Alyona Kistenyova did a series of quick-changes to represent both Micaëla (the sweetly devoted girl from tragic protagonist Don José’s village) and Frasquita (one of Carmen’s soldier-teasing, contraband-assisting, card-playing friends. She has a powerful soprano voice to top the ensembles and deserves much praise for versatility. And Irina Melnic (Mercedes) revealed a lovely voice in the Act 3 card game.

Baritone Iurie Gisca was also double-cast, as Morales the army corporal and Escamillo the toreador, and delivered both roles with vigour.

And the two leading characters, Carmen and Don José, were very well sung and (Carmen, particularly, by Liza Kadelnik) well portrayed. She is from the Romanian National Opera and made a sensuous and vocally ample gypsy temptress.

Ellen Kent’s mainly Moldovan performing resources have been augmented on this tour (as fate and politics would have it) by some experienced artists from the Ukraine – Alyona Kistenyova was with the Odessa company, which has toured here in its own right with Ellen Kent before, and tenor Vitalii Liskovetskyi, our Don José, is from the Kiev company. He was one of the best  singers of the role I’ve heard in these productions, holding his pitch well in his duet with Micaëla in Act 1, and in his Flower Song in Act 2, which are often slippery places for singers.

Valeriu Cojocaru (Zuniga) and Vladimir Dragos (Le Dancaire) did their familiar stentorian stuff.

Conductor Vasyl Vasylenko is another Ukrainian – a music director without a company at present, as he hails from Donetsk – and he made a very positive contribution, with disciplined and sometimes even lyrical playing coming from the orchestra (though what the timpanist was on bemused me at times).

When it came to the plotting quintet in Act 2, he let them rush through (as always seems to be the case with eastern European companies), but there was much to admire, the Prelude to the final act in particular.

Carmen returns to Manchester Opera House on March 19 (Buxton March 20), with Die Fledermaus on March 18.


Robert Beale

Friday, 27 November 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 27 November 2015

OPERA director Stefan Janski brings his last full-length production as Head of Opera at the Royal Northern College of Music to the stage on December 2 (and five more performances – December 4, 6, 7, 10 and 12).

And it’s clear he’s going out on a high.

Stefan will have been with the RNCM for 30 years when his retirement date comes next summer. He’s directed over 40 complete shows there, and around 700 staged excerpts from the opera repertoire.

And his swan song is a Broadway musical from 1946 – Street Scene, by Kurt Weill – though Weill called it his ‘American opera’ and it’s now considered a classic like Gershwin’s Porgy And Bess.

Spectacular, it seems, is hardly going to be an adequate word for it. Stefan, renowned for his multiple casting and brilliantly organized crowd scenes in previous productions, says he has over 66 named roles in his version of the story (based on an Elmer Rice play) of 24 hours in summertime, in a crowded tenement block and the street outside, in the Big Apple.

And, true to RNCM tradition, many of those are double-cast. Oh, and there’s one dog in this cast, too: little Oscar, who is having his own training sessions, getting used to hearing big voices singing at close quarters …

“I’m using the whole of the undergraduate second year,” says Stefan. “Part of their training is in chorus singing, and some of them have cameo roles as well.”

The musical is set in a two-tier tenement block, with eight apartments opening on to the ‘street’ of the title. The orchestra pit, kindly vacated by conductor Clark Rundell and his happy band (who will be upstage, behind a gauze), becomes the basement storey, and the stage proper the upper one, so people in the front row of the audience are looking right into the action.

“This show has got everything,” Stefan says: “Emotional repression and tension, heat, sadness, the quest for true affection, the problems of immigrants, a love triangle, and tragedy and the blues. But optimism is what it’s really about. There are some stunning numbers.”

It’s being modernised to the extent of including boogie-woogie jive, rather than tap-dancing, in one number. There’s a violin lesson on stage, and an Ice Cream Sextet.

The RNCM team includes choreographer Bethan Rhys Wiliam, set and costume design by Kate Ford, and technical direction and lighting by Nick Ware.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Manchester Evening News review 23 November 2015

MANCHESTER CAMERATA  Royal Northern College of Music


THE Camerata always sounds at its best in the intimate and lively acoustic of the Royal Northern College of Music concert hall. This performance had two considerable extra buzz factors: Giovanni Guzzo as leader-director-soloist and Gabriela Montero as piano soloist and improviser extraordinaire.

He brought his own genius for style and intensity to the task. It’s what we remember from his time as the orchestra’s regular leader, and even in such a subdued piece of writing as Arvo Pärt’s Fratres (which to my mind is really rather longer than it needs to be) he galvanized the sound as it reached the top of its emotional arch.

Piazzolla’s The Four Season Of Buenos Aires was probably far more on his wavelength, brimming with South American rhythmic life, and with his solos much enhanced by Hannah Robert’s own on the cello. The weather sequence in Buenos Aires is obviously very different from the kind Vivaldi knew in his Four Seasons, but the echoes of that and other warhorse pieces are great fun.

The finale of the concert was Britten’s Variations On A Theme By Frank Bridge. Guzzo had his musicians really enjoying their virtuoso ensemble playing here, with richly burnished violin tone in the Romance, an Aria Italiana which sounded like a very convivial night out in a trattoria, big bravura in the Wiener Walzer, and the quizzical endings of the Funeral March and Fugue And Finale subtly done.

But that was not all this programme had to offer. Gabriela Montero is a phenomenon in her own right. She was the highly accomplished soloist in Mozart’s piano concerto no. 14 in E flat K449, her approach gelling with fellow-Venezuelan Guzzi’s in the bouncy final movement, and a real sense of dialogue with the orchestra strings emerging in the slow movement.

For the first movement cadenza she rattled off a very stylish sequence in free fantasia style, but that was just a foretaste of what came after the concerto. Her trademark spot of asking the audience to suggest tunes from which she can improvise resulted in two instant creations: the first a rhapsodic expansion of the first phrases of McCartney’s Yesterday which began somewhere between Chopin and Rachmaninov with, finally, a touch of Gershwin – still twice as good as some of the stuff peddled by populist Italian pianists which they conceive to be original compositions.

The second was on the Marseillaise. I was afraid someone would suggest that, because it could have brought out mawkishness and shallow emotion, but she began in severely contrapuntal style, worked her way from Mozart to Beethoven and finally, in a thunder of double octaves, gave it an exposition Liszt would have been proud of.


Robert Beale

Manchester Evening News review 21 November 2015

BBC PHILHARMONIC  Bridgewater Hall and live Radio 3


A CONCERTO for drum kit and orchestra? Sounds like the ideal formula for classical music to get down with the kids and bridge the gap with popular culture.

Well, Mark Anthony Turnage’s Erskine – Concerto For Drum Set And Orchestra (named in honour of its soloist, Peter Erskine), receiving its UK premiere in Manchester under principal guest conductor John Storgårds, didn’t exactly pull in the crowds.

But then, they may have all been listening on Radio 3 instead. I wish.

Turnage’s music is attractive to those who like complicated sounds as well as modern rhythms, but it isn’t popular in style. Its fans are classical cognoscenti – music critics and suchlike.

I found the concerto constantly fascinating, certainly never boring. As a conceptual construction, I think it has weaknesses. Much of the time Erskine (the man) was drumming along with the orchestra as he might with a band in more conventional style. Then, every so often, it all stopped and he launched into a free solo – not exactly the kind of relationship between soloist and the rest that ‘concerto’ normally implies.

Admirable aspects of it were the sly send-up of ‘cool’ dance music in the Habanera movement, the exposition of the drum kit’s gentler sounds in the Blues, and the brilliantly written rhythm-only fugue for soloist and three other percussionists that begins the finale (though it’s hardly a first: Ernst Toch did something similar with speaking voices in his Geographical Fugue).

The concerto was placed amid a sequence of pieces designed to catch the idea of ‘joy’. Appropriately in the year of his death, Joybox by John McCabe (premiered by the Phil at the Proms in 2013), was the opener. It builds its complexities wittily and contrapuntally and, rather like Ravel’s La Valse, makes a mid-course gear-change into controlled chaos.

There were three Stravinsky pieces from the 1940s: Ode, Scherzo A La Russe and the hilarious Circus Polka. The first included music originally designed for an outdoor film scene score and curiously reminiscent of Walton’s outdoor music for Henry V (written about the same time); the other two were lively relaxations.

Ives’ The Unanswered Question came into play as a contrast, I suppose, but keeping on the American theme of the season. Its atmospheric strings (led by Yuri Torchinsky) and stark trumpet and flutes altercation, were potent as ever.

But the final item – Antheil’s ‘Joyous’ Symphony (no. 5) was one of the most joyless pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s easy on the ear, and has a thrilling speed-up to the end of the first movement, but it’s also sentimentally tawdry, repetitive and trite. Pity that was the best example of musical joy they could think of.


Robert Beale

Friday, 20 November 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 20 November 2015

THE silent La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc, made by Robert Dreyer in 1928, is seen today as one of the greatest films ever.

It’s to have a showing at the Royal Northern College of Music on November 24th with live musical accompaniment by medieval music specialists The Orlando Consort, in a presentation that has been a highlight of music festivals around the country this year.

Dressed all in black, with small earpieces in their ears and the glow of two laptops casting ghostly shadows on their faces, Orlando will look more like Kraftwerk c.1975 than an early-music group.

But they say: “To musicians like ourselves, familiar with repertoire from the medieval period, it was a small imaginative leap to hear the background music to several of the scenes in The Passion Of Joan Of Arc.

“It’s music which Joan herself may have heard, notably in the scene where she is taunted and tempted by the staging of the Catholic service, before it is suddenly terminated. “Dreyer’s parallel between the passions of Christ and Joan immediately suggested texts such as Ave Verum Corpus. At the moment when Joan’s body is bled by the doctors, we are singing (in Latin) the words ‘whose pierced side flowed with water and blood’.

“As an unlikely straw crown is thrust on her head by mocking English soldiers, the audience hears the Agincourt Song, musical triumphalism that celebrates the famous English victory some 16 years earlier.

“And when the crowd riots, the medieval motet – polyrhythmic and polytextual – provides the perfect underscoring of violence and confusion.”

The two 1928 premieres of the film (in Copenhagen and Paris) each had specially composed scores, though Dreyer, like most directors of the time, had no say in what the music was like.

Since then works by a variety of musicians – from Nick Cave to J S Bach – have accompanied screenings, and the score for the Paris premiere is still occasionally performed.

But Orlando Consort’s a-cappella version is the first in which real medieval songs, composed in the saint’s lifetime of c. 1412 to 1431, have accompanied the film.

There is more sacred than secular music to choose from, but, say Orlando, many poignant, heartbreaking secular songs do survive.

“In our soundtrack, these serve as expressions of Joan’s suffering, and underline a frequent parallel in the courtly love tradition between depictions of the Virgin Mary and the perfect object of desire.”

Friday, 13 November 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 13 November 2015

WHEN Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero appeared solo at the Bridgewater Hall last year, the most amazing thing – as well as her mastery of classical repertoire – was the last part.

She improvized three dazzling pieces on ideas contributed then and there by the audience. She likes to do it whenever she can, conjuring new creations out of thin air with fluency and bravura that would be the envy of many who’ve practised their music for years.

She’s appearing as soloist with Manchester Camerata and violinist Giovanni Guzzo at the Royal Northern College of Music on November 22 (3pm), and her job is first to play the popular Mozart piano concerto in E flat (no. 14).

But after that she’ll improvize on themes suggested by the audience. Her ability is a remarkable gift, not so much the fruit of training as innate: something most people would call a kind of genius.

She was actually told not to do it by one of her classical teachers. But when she met Martha Argerich, the great Argentinian piano virtuosa, in 2001, she had her moment of revelation.

“She said to me, ‘You have a unique gift, and you need to share it with the world.’ From that point on I’ve been improvizing in all my recitals.”

I asked her what is in her mind as she makes her instant creations. “When I’m doing it, I’m just allowing music to go through my body,” she says. “It’s almost as if I’m witnessing what I’m playing just like the audience. It seems as if part of my brain shuts down. And a lot of my improvizations are very, very fast. I seem to kick into a different gear, neurologically.”

She’s got evidence for that: she’s been taking part in a medical study to compare what goes on in her brain when she improvizes with its state when she plays a prepared work.

Gabriela began piano lessons at four and gave her first concerto at eight.  Later she got a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London and won third prize in the Chopin Competition in 1995.

Today, married to Irish opera singer Sam McIlroy, she has a new home in Barcelona, and a new stage in her career, with rapturous receptions from public and press. But she says: “Applause never meant much to me. It’s really about the reasons for dedicating my life to music.”

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Manchester Theatre Awards and MEN review of Opera North's Jenufa, The Lowry

The Archers it ain’t. Janáček’s everyday story of countryfolk is about the ostracization of an unmarried mother, her obsessive and religion-bound foster parent, and infanticide. So much for the Romantic dream of village life.

The psychology of the female characters is what the opera, Jenůfa, is about: the two men in her life, though important singing roles, are little but ciphers. Opera North’s 20-year-old production, by Tom Cairns (who also designed it) is one from their vintage period of English-language performances and none the worse for that. Screened surtitles, now universally used, might seem superfluous in one sense but even the best singers are not always 100 per cent audible against Janáček’s orchestrations.

I’ve seen this production twice before (1995 and 2002) and each time it’s had a cast of remarkable stature. Christopher Purves had a bit-part in 2002!

This time, though, they have even bettered the past. Swedish soprano Ylva Kihlberg – unforgettable as the ageless Emilia Marty in The Makropulos Case three years ago – was an extraordinarily youthful Jenůfa, and her European voice quality befits the character better than the American and English singers who have taken the role before, however skilfully. She was a young woman whose ‘fall’ caused her shame, bewilderment and awakening at the same time.

Susan Bickley sang the foster mother (the Kostelnička her formal title, as a kind of Ena Sharples of the village community) with unfailing power and beauty, and even managed to evoke a few pangs of sympathy for her desperate solution to the baby problem (though not many – she is the baddie of the story, and her deed is discovered when the baby she drowned in the stream emerges, preserved, after winter’s ice has melted).

Elizabeth Sikora also sang and characterized remarkably as the grandmother of the family. The two half-brothers, Števa and Laca, are both tenor parts requiring exceptional powers, and Laca has much the most attractive music, as befits his character as the one who stands by Jenůfa even though she gets pregnant by Števa (perhaps it is a bit like The Archers after all …). Opera North have a very good young tenor here in David Butt Philip, who I’m pleased to see is an alumnus of the Royal Northern College of Music.

The production itself seemed oddly abstract 20 years ago, and of course its method of framing the scenes with evocative minimalist shapes and images has become much more a la mode now. Its fierceness, though, does ally itself to the surging power of Janáček’s score, as the rustic tragedy plays out.

Manchester Theatre Awards and MEN review of Opera North's The Barber of Seville, The Lowry

It’s a 29-year-old production but it hardly shows. Giles Havergal’s staging of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is still one of the best in Opera North’s cupboard, and it was good to see it dusted off again at The Lowry.

Imagining it as a performance by a travelling troupe in 19th century Italy (with ‘audience’ on stage to lead the applause at the right times, and become the chorus where necessary) was always a clever idea, and it means we observers can laugh both with, and occasionally at, the cavortings on stage.

Those are good value, too. The cast is a mixture of experience and youth, with the comedy led by Eric Roberts as Dr Bartolo (I can hardly imagine anyone else doing it) and Alastair Miles as Don Basilio, both masters of their craft. The English translation (Robert David MacDonald) gives Roberts funny lines which he exploits to the full (‘I love it when she’s angry’ … ‘I just cannot believe it’) and he presents his musical highspots to great effect (despite seeming momentarily to hesitate in Can You Offer Such Excuses).

The richly coloured voice of Katie Bray, as Rosina, shows that the young-and-up-and-coming members of the cast are of exceptional quality this time around. She sings Both The Singer And The Song (Una voce poco fa) wonderfully, and likewise in the lesson scene – and she can get a laugh with just a facial expression, as she does when her true love turns out to be the very eligible young Count Almaviva.

Nicholas Watts, in that role, took a few minutes to get into his stride but was singing brilliantly in the second act, and acting effectively.

But the discovery of the night is surely Gavan Ring as Figaro, a young Irish baritone who seems made for the role. He sings with assurance and catches the comedy opportunities without exaggeration.

Victoria Sharp’s Berta may not have more than one chance to shine as soloist, but she really proved her worth in topping the ensemble numbers with ringing tone.

Credit, too, of course, to Russell Craig’s set and costume design, which is one of the delights of this show.

Under Stuart Stratford’s direction, the performance got off to a slightly sticky start, with a little rhythmic unease in the overture and a touch of the perennial Lyric Theatre problem of keeping stage and pit together, but this was very soon overcome. The final act one sextet (Spellbound And Thunderstruck) was particularly well paced and articulated, and in the second part everything gelled to make a very fine evening.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Manchester Evening News review 10 November 2015

JAMES GILCHRIST & ANNA TILBROOK  Royal Northern College of Music


TENOR James Gilchrist brought an enticing programme of three song cycles to the Royal Northern College of Music, appearing with accompanist Anna Tilbrook for Manchester Chamber Concerts Society.

I can’t think of any solo singer who commands more respect in the kind of music he chose – Schumann’s Liederkreis and Dichterliebe, and Vaughan Williams’ Songs Of Travel – and she is a peerless player in these styles, where the piano says as much as the voice in interpreting the poetry.

The 12 songs to words by Eichendorff that make up the Liederkreis are vintage dreamy Romanticism, composed by a young man deeply in love.

I admired the subtle moments of characterization Gilchrist introduced, the slightly manic hints he brought to Die Stille, the way the feeling of some songs was projected into their successors, the touches of horror and apprehension he expressed at the conclusions of In Der Fremde and Zwielicht, and the pacing and shaping of the whole circle of emotions.

The piano postludes shone with beauty, delicacy, pictorial vividness and the occasional flash of fire: in short, exemplary playing.

Vaughan Williams’ settings of Robert Louis Stevenson seem less neurotic and more straightforward than Schumann’s writing. But with James Gilchrist they have the same thoughtful, multi-layered treatment, with a passionate highpoint in Youth And Love, a gentle transformation of mood towards the end of the series, and a very English kind of wistfulness, superbly caught.

The recital finished with Schumann’s settings of Heinrich Heine’s poetry, probably the most well known German song cycle of all.

For those of us who first fell in love with this music and these words in the great recordings by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the version in tenor (rather than baritone) pitch inevitably means a loss of dignity and solidity, but Gilchrist’s rendering was still deeply thought and telling.

He gave agonized personality, rather than pent-up frustration, to the desperate centrepiece, Ich Grolle Nicht, and imbued much of the cycle with gentle longing – an atmosphere to which Anna Tilbrook contributed in full measure.



Robert Beale

Friday, 6 November 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 6 November 2015

NICHOLAS COLLON is one of the fastest rising stars in the business. Still only two years past his 30th birthday, he’s already co-founded an orchestra and seen it perform at the London Proms, has been appointed conductor of one of Holland’s top symphony orchestras – and is in demand as guest maestro.

He’s also got to know Manchester’s orchestras, conducting the Camerata in 2011 in a programme of American music, the BBC Philharmonic last December in Berlioz, Brahms and Stravinsky (he’s back with them next February), and recording music by Colin Matthews with the Hallé last year.

But now comes his concert debut with the Hallé – in the popular ‘Opus One’ series, performed three times over in the Bridgewater Hall (November 11 at 2.15pm and November 12 and 15 at 7.30pm).

He’s directing them in Richard Strauss’s tone poem about Till Eulenspiegel, Saint-Saëns’ cello concerto and Dvořák’s Silent Woods (both with soloist Jian Wang), and finally Beethoven’s dynamic Symphony no. 7.

Nicholas comes of musical stock. His grandmother was his piano teacher, and his mother his violin teacher. He joined the youth orchestra in his home county of Surrey … and the conducting bug bit.

“The first thing we ever played was the overture to Die Meistersinger by Wagner,” he says, “and at that point I think I first wanted to be a conductor.”

Educated at Eton, he went to Clare College, Cambridge as organ scholar and got his first real experience of musical direction. “It was a fabulous college to be at, musically. I conducted the choir and I learned a tremendous amount there.”

Aged 20, he founded the Aurora Orchestra with friend and Clare College contemporary Robin Ticciati (now making his own meteoric career).

“My way of learning conducting was simply to do it,” says Nicholas. “The orchestra began with people we knew from the National Youth Orchestra, Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music – there was a whole generation of musicians who created a real buzz.

“To begin with, we just put on a concert. I went round with cap in hand and about 60 people became our ‘friends’ and patrons. It all picked up from there – now we have a permanent structure.”

Nicholas has just been made principal conductor of the Residentie Orkester in The Hague, a job he’ll take up next winter season.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Manchester Evening News review 31 October 2015

THE SIXTEEN   Bridgewater Hall


OF course there are never actually 16 of them (or hardly ever). The singing strength of The Sixteen at the Bridgewater Hall on Friday was 18 – and they brought their orchestra as well, so we had good value for money.

It was a festival of Handel – mostly music they’ve performed here before, but none the worse for that. As conductor Harry Christophers has pointed out, Handel was a master of power through simplicity, as well as complex musical tapestries, and rarely lost the instinct for drama in his writing, even when it wasn’t for the stage.

The orchestra preluded each half of the concert with spritely playing on its own: The Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba (from Solomon) first – in which you can almost hear the jangle of the bling as she approaches – and the sober overture to the tragic Jephtha.

The Chandos Anthem no. 11 (Let God Arise) was a new item for Sixteen fans at the Bridgewater Hall. Its final Alleluia chorus is almost a prototype for the fugal part of the more famous Hallelujah we all know (and equally jolly); its most glorious music the central section for solo soprano, Let The Righteous Be Glad, steered adroitly on its melodious way by Christophers’ beat.

The fourth of George II’s Coronation anthems, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, was a suitable precursor for the major work of the second part, Dixit Dominus.

It’s an early cantata from Handel’s Italian years, demanding a lot from any choir and orchestra, and was splendidly done. Christophers keeps the pulse moving along in the livelier sections, even when the music seems to gasp in its own moments of crisis, and he was well aware of the dramatic effects that come in the centre of the work, the vigour of its counterpoint, the stabbing rhythms that illustrate the Lord ‘smiting’ the bad guys, and the wonderful pastoral contrast that accompanies the thought of drinking refreshing water from a stream.

Finally he built a suitably weighty climax from the ebb and flow of the Gloria Patri. There was a good house and they went home suitably satisfied.