From Purcell to Tavener with Lancashire Sinfonietta

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Handel, Tavener, J. S. Bach, Purcell, Pärt, Telemann: Caroline MacPhie (soprano), Sarah Brandwood Spencer (violin), Tim Barber (trumpet), Ed Cervenka (bell), Lancashire Sinfonietta/Andrew Watkinson (violin/conductor), United Reformed Church, St. Anne’s-on-Sea, Lancashire, 15.12.12 (MC)

Handel – Concerto Grosso in G major, Op.6/1 (1739)
Tavener – Song of the Angel (1994)
Handel – Let the Bright Seraphim (1741)
J.S. Bach – Concerto for two violins, BWV1043 (1730/31)
Purcell – Sonata for trumpet and strings in D major, Z850 (1670)
Arvo Pärt – Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten (1713)
Handel – Eternal Source of Light Divine (1713)
Telemann – Don Quichotte, TWV 55:G10 (1761)

Lancashire Sinfonietta at Preston Minster, photo from their own collection.
Lancashire Sinfonietta at Preston Minster:photo from their own collection.


This is the third time in eighteen months that the Lancashire Sinfonietta has played at the United Reformed Church at St. Annes-on-Sea. Undoubtedly many of those present could vividly remember the concert given last December as part of the Lancashire Sinfonietta’s Christmas Candlelight Concerto series when outside the wind was howling and the rain was lashing down. For this concert – part of the Sinfonietta’s Song of The Angel festive celebration series – the weather outside the church was benign with the glorious music inside serving as an ideal Christmastide warmer.

For those new to the Lancashire Sinfonietta they are a professional chamber orchestra who draw their players from a variety of orchestras including the Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Academy of Ancient Music, London Symphony Orchestra, European Union Chamber Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Tonight the Lancashire Sinfonietta were set up as a fifteen strong string orchestra with the inclusion of a theorbo, a long necked lute, which added to the atmosphere of the predominately late-Baroque programme.

The concert opened with Handel’s Concerto Grosso in G major, the first of his set of Twelve Grand Concertos, HWV319–330. Despite a few initial intonation problems from director Andrew Watkinson the warm, comforting music got the concert off to a satisfying start. An attractive contrast was John Tavener’s Song of the Angel, ashort piece for soprano soloist and strings – a setting of a single repeated Greek word Greek ‘Allelouia’. Tavener instructed that the piece “should be sung and played with a restrained ecstasy.” It can’t have been easy for St. Anne’s-on-Sea born soprano Caroline MacPhie to plunge straight in with her highly exposed vocal part, but bright-toned and direct the soprano made it her own, conveying the mystical beauty of Taverner’s music.

Always an audience pleaser if performed well is the familiar aria Let the Bright Seraphim from Handel’s oratorio Samson. Caroline MacPhie was joined by trumpeter Tim Barber to magnificent effect with the soprano’s bright elegance complementing the pure toned trumpet in a glorious stream of sound. J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor (Double Concerto) is a work that I never tire of hearing especially when the performance is as splendid as the one given by soloists Sarah Brandwood Spencer and Andrew Watkinson. Disarmingly mellow and warm in tone the duo’s playing was heartfelt and highly engaging.

Suitably refreshed during the interval by mulled wine and spiced biscuits the audience were treated to Purcell’s Sonata for trumpet and strings in D major. This is a three movement work requiring the trumpet to rest for the central movement Largo and, in truth, I find it rather bland and uninspiring. With his relaxed manner, playing with unerring vibrancy and marvellously in tune Tim Barber made his solo part look deceptively easy.

Arvo Pärt composed his Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten in 1977, a threnody in response to the death of Benjamin Britten. Scored for string orchestra and bell the Cantus is built around a wash of haunting sound on the strings and a repeated single chime on the bell, which was played by Ed Cervenka. Performing with palpable purity and fine control the Sinfonietta conveyed a delightfully comforting and spiritual quality of stark beauty to Pärt’s mystical writing.

Handel’s joyous Ode Eternal Source of Light Divine, written in 1713 for the birthday of the British monarch Queen Anne, certainly has the power to move the listener. The gently virtuosic lines of Caroline MacPhie’s soprano and Tim Barber’s trumpet floated gloriously above the strings combining together to delightful effect.

Closing the concert in the Sinfonietta’s customary high spirited manner was Telemann’s orchestral 1761 suite Burlesque de Quixotte. Original and innovative in its day the score served as a fine test of the Sinfonietta’s ensemble playing. Andrew Watkinson is a sympathetic director who ensured a flowing performance high on enthusiasm and vibrancy with beautifully moulded phrases and judicious rhythms.

Michael Cookson