Review: Baroque Splendour, Bradford Festival Choral Society

Bradford Festival Choral Society.
Bradford Festival Choral Society.
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Having dusted off my powdered wig – a slight contradiction in terms – I prepared for an evening of Baroque Splendour in that most Italian of cities, Bradford.

The coiffured, elegant world of gentile 17th century London and the musical dexterity of Monteverdi’s Venice, existed at a time in history when improvisation was considered de rigueur for musicians working at the highest levels of society.

Their talents were exemplary, hard to argue with when you consider that it would be the best part of 200 years before Edward Elgar would vaguely challenge Henry Purcell as one of the greatest composers spawned by England.

So, it was an excellent choice by Bradford Festival’s Musical Director, Thomas Leech, to not only blow the dust from some of the 17th century’s most prized manuscripts, but to also use the excellent Northern Baroque Ensemble to authenticate this highly engaging evening.

Accompanied by a raft of 17th century instruments, including baroque violins and virtuosi Cornetti players - a brass instrument dating from before the invention of the trumpet – the audience of stalwarts was treated to a programme of masterpieces from Purcell, Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi.

The brilliance of these musical masters is a given, however, the equal brilliance is how Leech works with his 100-strong choir to achieve amazing vocal outcomes, despite, in this instance, the harmonic complexities of the Baroque period.

There was the intensity of Purcell’s Hear my prayer, O Lord, the wonderful rendition of Monteverdi’s Agnus Dei (Messa a 4 da capella) and the sonic magnificence of Gabriel’s Jubilate Deo. Offering seamless support to the evening was melodic soprano Katy Kelly and the talented up-and-coming bass, Sam Gilliatt.

Having witnessed Ellen Kent’s topless Rigoletto cast bare all for their art at the Alhambra just a few days earlier, I did wonder whether Mr Leech’s chorus would also peel off to add a little Je ne sais quoi to the vocal tradition.

With snow outside the Price Hall, I am happy to report that musical dignity stood firmly side by side with musical decorum. An excellent evening that warmed the heart on a chilly Bradford night.