University of York Choir, The 24 and The City Musick, Central Hall, University of York, March 18
WELL, this looked interesting, but then any concert with a strapline “Reining in the Donkey” and curated and conducted by Robert Hollingworth would be.
Last Saturday’s concert was a highly imaginative programme focusing on Orazio Benevoli’s mass, Missa Si Deus Pro Nobis, dovetailed with music by Andrea Gabrieli, Vincenzo Ugolino, Palestrina and Frescobaldi.
The mass was written for eight choirs supported by 15 continuo instrumentalists. These would be placed in stalls above and around the congregation, thus setting up a dramatic, sumptuous surround-sound extravaganza.
In York Minster this would have been a real musical event, but in the Central Hall, with an acoustic as dry as sandpaper, it wasn’t. And nor could it have been. Right from the choral opening of Vincenzo Ugolino’s Quae Est Ista, the university choir sounded cruelly exposed and vulnerable.
With all the forces at play, however, the singers grew in confidence through the Kyrie and Gloria of the Benevoli Mass. The choral exchanges of the lovey suspended sequences in the Credo worked well.
The introduction of the amazing contrabass shawm, played by Nicholas Perry, was quite an experience. I thought it sounded like a musical equivalent of the butler Lurch from The Addams Family but it is probably best described by Paul McCreesh as “the finest fartophone in all music”.
Not all the choral detail was in place; the rhythmic passages in the Credo, for example, were not as crisp or accurate as they should have been, but the extensive tutti sections at the end of each of the movements were confident and satisfying. Indeed, the Agnus Dei conclusion was luxurious, quite delightful.
The instrumental movements performed by The City Musick players were, obviously, imperious. Catherine Pierron’s chamber organ performance of Frescobaldi’s Toccata No.3, weaving webs of magical tapestry, was breathtaking.
There was also a wonderful, confident Agnus Dei by Palestrina (arr. Francesco Soriano) sung by The 24, a choir clearly at the top of their game, with crystal-clear part singing throughout. Very impressive.
Anyway, back to the donkey. The technique is a musical joke where busy antiphonal exchanges (runaway, out-of-control donkeys) combined with long plainchant melodies (hapless, possibly fat, cardinals pulling on the reins). Excellent.
I get the impression that Orazio Benevoli’s Missa Si Deus Pro Nobis is not only a hidden gem, but now a discovered masterpiece. I would love to hear Robert Hollingworth curate and direct another performance. But not here, not at the Central Hall. Please.
THE University of York Choir join forces with The 24 and The City Musick for an evening of the “Colossal Baroque” music of 17th century Rome at Central Hall, University of York, on March 18.
Under the direction of Robert Hollingworth, the 7.30pm programme combines Orazio Benevoli’s Missa Di Deus Pro Nobis for four choirs with what the choir’s musical director describes as “other monstrous works” by Benevoli’s Venetian teacher, Vincenzo Ugolini, among others.
Almost forgotten today, Benevoli (1605-1672) was one of the most important Roman Baroque composers of his day. “He wrote glorious, large scale, multi-choir music that included a technique called ‘reining in the donkey’, in which the lower parts move hastily underneath a static soprano line, supposedly like a priest sitting on and trying to hold back a frenetic donkey,” says Hollingworth. “Think King Of Kings in the Hallelujah Chorus,” he suggests.
The 24 is a University of York music department ensemble, conducted by Hollingworth, founder/director of I Fagiolini. The City Musick comprises cornett, sackbut, dulcian, strings, organs and theorbos.
University of York Choir & Baroque Ensemble, Central Hall, University of York, November 30
CHRISTMAS music of the Baroque and the 20th century were contrasted here in the five sections of Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit and four carol-anthems by Howells.
Interwoven with these were five extracts from A Child’s Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas. It was an ingenious idea, although none of these strands had much in common beyond the seasonal message.
Robert Hollingworth, who is now conductor of this choir, the university’s largest, read the passages from Thomas’s nostalgic view of a childhood Christmas, blanket-wrapped in an armchair and adopting an impressive Welsh lilt (that softened a bit towards the end). It was cosy, fireside stuff, with larger-than-life characters springing from the pages.
Charpentier’s late-17th century mass is almost balletic in its attempt to appeal to popular taste. The Baroque Ensemble, with guests leading three of its string sections, responded stylishly, with keen rhythm and taut ensemble.
The choir did not catch quite the same sense of urgency, perhaps feeling that Hollingworth’s baton was directed more at the players. That said, the tempo changes in the middle of the Credo were well managed. Alexander Kyle took over conducting for the final two sections, including a surprisingly jaunty Agnus Dei.
Variety came with several passages from a semi-chorus that additionally supplied soloists, who were at their most appealing when sopranos intertwined with recorders. A choir this size ranged on three flanks is always going to have difficulties with blend, especially in the very dry acoustic of Central Hall.
So, it was a pity that the least-known – and most recent – of the Howells pieces, Long, Long Ago, came first, before the choir had found its feet.
Here Is The Little Door, conducted by Kyle, was the best-shaped of the Howells. In contrast, A Spotless Rose was a little too fast for there to be no feel of the bar-line and the crunchy harmonies at the end, symptomatic of icy winter, were fudged. Bo Holten’s First Snow made an effective finisher.
Hollingworth is deservedly recognised as a first-class choir trainer. He will need just a little longer to stamp his mark on this choir. Watch this space.
GHOST stories, pantomimes and Jools’s annual visit top Charles Hutchinson’s list of winter essentials to keep warm and alert.
Ghost stories of the week, part one: Dyad Productions in Christmas Gothic, Theatre@41, Monkgate, tonight (27/11/2022), 7.30pm
FROM the creators of I, Elizabeth, A Room Of One’s Own, Female Gothic and Austen’s Women comes a dark celebration of Christmas, adapted and performed by Rebecca Vaughan.
Come in from the cold and embrace the Christmas spirit as a spectral woman tells haunting tales of the festive season, lighting a candle to the frailties of human nature and illuminating the chilling depths of the bleak, wintry gloom at this time of feasts and festivities, visits and visitations, ghosts and more ghosts. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Ghost Stories For Christmas, part two: James Swanton, York Medical Society, Stonegate, York, select dates from November 29 to December 20, 7pm
YORK’S gothic ghost storyteller supreme, James Swanton, presents his most ambitious Dickensian schedule yet, with 12 shows back home and around 20 more around the country, transferring to London’s Charles Dickens Museum in the run-up to Christmas.
Ghost Stories For Christmas is made up of Swanton’s hour-long solo renditions of A Christmas Carol (eight performances) and the lesser-known The Chimes and The Haunted Man (two nights each). Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/ghost-stories-for-christmas/.
Good for the soul show of the week: The Stylistics, York Barbican, tonight (27/11/2022), 7.30pm
SOULFUL Philadelphia harmony veterans The Stylistics “can’t wait to be back in the UK, performing all our hits, bringing back great memories and having a great evening with you all” on their 27-date tour.
In the line-up will be founder members Arrion Love and Herb Murrell, complemented by ‘Bo’ Henderson and Jason Sharp, as the 2004 inductees into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame sing I’m Stone In Love With You, You Make Me Feel Brand New, Let’s Put It All Together, You Are Everything et al. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Christmas concert of the week: Long, Long Ago, Messe de Minuit pour Noel, University of York Choir & Baroque Ensemble, Central Hall, University of York, Wednesday, 7.30pm
UNIVERSITY of YorkChoir & Baroque Ensemble are joined by The 24 for a Christmas concert of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit for voices, strings and flutes, Howells’ four jazz-inflected Carol Anthems and Bo Holten’s First Snow.
Director Robert Hollingworth also will be donning his dressing gown for a reading of Dylan Thomas’s magical A Child’s Christmas In Wales. “All in all, it’s a strange alchemic mix but we know it works!” he says. “Trust us – and come and have your first mince pie of the season.” Box office: yorkconcerts.co.uk.
Yorkshire welcome back of the week: Aladdin, Harrogate Theatre, until January 15 2023
MICHAEL Lambourne, the booming-voiced thespian who needs no introduction to York Theatre Royal audiences, can probably be heard all the way from York when he plays the evil ABBAnazar in his Harrogate Theatre pantomime debut.
Lambourne joins daft lad Tim Stedman’s Wishee Washee and fellow Harrogate panto returnees Christina Harris(Princess Jasmine), Colin Kiyani (Aladdin) and Howard Chadwick, back on spa-town dame duty, as Widow Twankey, for the first time since Snow White in 2019. Ebony Feare’s Genie and Stephanie Costi’s Pandora the Panda are the new faces in Marcus Romer’s cast. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
Putting the Pan into pantomime: All New Adventures Of Peter Pan, York Theatre Royal, December 2 to January 2 2023
CBEEBIES favourite Maddie Moate and three stars of last year’s Cinderella – Faye Campbell, Paul Hawkyard and Robin Simpson – fly into action for York Theatre Royal’s third collaboration with Evolution Productions.
Moate plays naughty fairy Tinkerbell, Campbell, Elizabeth Darling, Hawkyard, Captain Hook and Simpson, Mrs Smee, joined by Jason Battersby’s Peter Pan and Jonny Weldon’s pirate Starkey in creative director Juliet Forster’s production, scripted by Evolution’s Paul Hendy. Look out for acrobats Mohammed Iddi, Karina Ngade and Mbaraka Omari too. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Jools et Jim show: Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, with Vic Reeves, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm
ON the back of notching the 30th anniversary of his Later…With Jools Holland shows on BBC Two, the boogie-wooogie piano man joins up with fellow Squeeze alumnus Gilson Lavis, vocalists Ruby Turner and Louise Marshall and his exuberant big band.
The special-guest star turn goes to comedian, artist and chart-topping all-round performer Vic Reeves (aka Jim Moir), Holland’s Leeds-born podcast partner on Jools & Jim’s Joyride, fresh from his Yorkshire Rocks & Dinghy Fights exhibition at RedHouse Originals, Harrogate. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Looking and booking ahead: Diversity: Supernova, York Barbican, March 7 and 8 2024
LONDON street dance troupe Diversity’s 66-date Supernova tour to 40 cities and towns in 2023-2024 will take in a return to York.
Winners of the third series of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, Ashley Banjo’s dancers will be switching to the Grand Opera House from York Barbican, where they presented Connected, a show full of playful, comedic routines with powerful statements on human connectivity, in April this spring. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.