I’d been the only attendee on the event page on facebook, thankfully that was not the case in reality. Tonight the City Hall rang out to the sound of Bach, Vivaldi, Handel and Purcell, performed by Hull Choral Union – orchestra and choir – conducted by Sam Gardner in a stirring Spring concert.
I am not a classicist and I’m not a musician. Some years ago I sang chorus in an amateur operatic society. Once in a while, during the festive period, my radio dial might find its way to Classic FM and I can probably name a few standards which I enjoy hearing. Now I’ve shared my credentials, I’ll share my night of Baroque Celebrations.
In the first ten minutes I learn four things they are: the lights don’t go down, the cheap seats are right at the front (I am in row H quite respectable in the middle) there is no conductor on stage during the Brandenburg Concerto and lastly, probably most importantly, you do not applaud in between movements.
The blend of violin and flute is deft and exciting, with first violinist Louise Turner leading the piece. Her violin looks very old, it’s a darker wood than the others and has a distinct tone. I like it and her playing. During the opening movement I imagine I can hear Vivaldi like phrases. The diminishing flute phrases I enjoy too.
I later learn that this Bach concerto does indeed owe much to Vivaldi.
Now Handel and the first introduction to the very remarkable counter tenor voice of Tom Williams, one of four soloists singing tonight. Counter tenor is a high male voice, higher than a normal tenor, with a sound and range that perhaps in the time of Handel would have been found in the castrato.
It is not as pure as the choir boy sound, it has a breath of falsetto. I would suggest that the voice is being produced in a slightly different way. He calls out for a ‘lasting peace on earth‘ the choir join in for the first time tonight and the choral sound begins to fill the hall.
It takes me until the fifth movement in Birthday Ode for Queen Anne, before I realise that it is, as if the choir are singing the chorus, for each movement. Not always the same tune but the same words… I think.
‘Conduct her on her way‘ sings soprano Kate Tretheway sylph-like in deep blue gown, simply sparkling on the stage, her voice effortless and sublime. During the ninth movement, the choir are singing in a most satisfying call and response arrangement. The atmosphere is building to the close of the first half.
An interval and a chance to talk with some of the other audience members, including a group of ladies from the Carers group in Barton, who have travelled over the river on a minibus.
The second half opens with Vivaldi‘s Magnificat. A complex Latinate composition with shifting components and moods; at times light and sprightly; at times sombre then tempestuous.
‘Magnificat anima mea Dominum.’ My soul doth magnify the Lord.
The fourth piece in tonight’s programme I recognise. The Bell Anthem by Purcell ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway,’ It is the title that is familiar, probably a hymn I remember from school; I can hear the repetitive chorus in my head. This however, is a totally different tune and arrangement, so I don’t sing along.
All night I am waiting for that transportive feeling that you find in the soaring majesty of plainsong, the rush from hearing a multitude of voices. I ponder whether the real stuff is to be found, by actually being one of the voices and not merely, sitting, meekly in the audience.
I’m shaken from reverie by the glorious oboes during Come, Ye Sons of Art. There’s a really pretty section where wind and strings combine and the result ripples through the air. Helena Pidder‘s solo oboe, during the fifth movement and Christine Nolan on cello in the ninth both compelling.
The appearance of timpani and trumpet herald the grandiose climax to this epic composition, penned in 1694 by Purcell for Queen Mary’s 33rd birthday. The applause as the last note fades is sustained and wholehearted.
I smile knowing that despite recent blogs that might suggest I am at odds with 17, I am right now doing just as Martin Green CEO asked: trying something new, experiencing something I wouldn’t normally.