There's something very Christmassy about listening to classical music played in a gently-lit church.
The Royal Northern Sinfonia once again proved a big hit as they neatly set the scene for the festive build-up.
Like last year, the orchestra has split into two to deliver different programmes in various venues around the North East and Cumbria, including St Michael's Church, Alnwick, where the series launched on Thursday evening.
Unlike last year, the programme in Alnwick was directed by Kyra Humphreys, while principal violinist Tristan Gurney was simultaneously conducting operations at St Cuthbert’s Chapel, Ushaw, Durham.
The Baroque movements were evocative, moving and delightfully orchestrated - what a pleasure to witness such intense musicianship on our own doorstep. The programme was not as well-known as 12 months ago, which had included Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, in fact, it was a bit of an Italy-Czechoslovakia multi-deck sandwich.
The concert commenced with a blast - Italian Guiseppe Tartini's Trumpet Concerto in D major - including a virtuoso performance from Richard Martin on trumpet, complete with perfectly executed cadenzas. It was a rousing opening, which gathered pace to finish with a flourish and a genuine fanfare, greeted with due enthusiasm by the 200-strong audience. Calum Robertson's fine technique on the harpsichord added a prime Baroque ingredient.
Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was up next, as the smooth, sweeping sounds of his Nocturne in B major Op.40 filled the cavernous medieval building. Frank Dolman's double bass, played pizzicato-style, boomed a beautiful rhythm that mimicked a distant kettle drum.
The master of the Baroque genre, Antonio Vivaldi, based his Il Riposo per il SS Natale on Christmas Eve and how fitting, too, for this occasion. It was distinctive Vivaldi, with the harpsichord in the mix again, and deft handling of a complex and very pretty piece showcasing Kyra Humphreys on violin, leading a subtly suppressed orchestra.
In contrast, a more measured Joseph Suk's meditation on the old Czech chorale Saint Wenceslas (Op.53a) followed. Although it built gradually, with different instruments joining the party, it failed to reach the same vibrant heights as the Vivaldi, but was still very emotional.
Steven Hudson was the star of the next piece - Domenico Cimarosa's Oboe Concerto in C minor. It was a performance full of style and passion to send an appreciative audience dancing into the interval.
The anticipation was palpable, with the iconic violin concerto, Winter, from Vivaldi's Four Seasons Op.8 No.4, kicking off the second half. And we weren't disappointed, with Kyra working furiously and putting her own stamp on one of the most popular pieces of classical music.
And finally, it was back to Czechoslovakia for the melodic Serenade for Strings in E Flat Major, by an incredibly talented 18-year-old Josef Suk.
It had been an evening to get everyone into the Christmas spirit and a real treat for classical aficionados.
The tour also called in to All Saints Church, Rothbury, on Friday, December 7, and St George’s Church, Cullercoats, on Saturday, December 8, both Programme 2, directed by Tristan Gurney.
The orchestra at Alnwick were - First violin: Kyra Humphreys (director), Tijmen Huisingh, Sarah Roberts, Liz Rossi. Second violin: Jenny Chang, Alanna Tonetti-Tieppo, Marie Schreer. Viola: Malcolm Critten, James Slater. Cello: Ursula Smith, James Craig. Double bass: Frank Dolman. Oboe: Steven Hudson. Trumpet: Richard Martin. Harpsichord: Calum Robertson.
THE REMAINING DATES:
Tuesday, December 11: St Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle
Tuesday, December 11: Hexham Abbey, Hexham
Wednesday, December 12: Sunderland Minster, Sunderland
All concerts at 7.30pm.
Programme 1 (Alnwick, Darlington, Stockton, Carlisle, Sunderland) - Kyra Humphreys, director; Steve Hudson, oboe; Richard Martin, trumpet; Royal Northern Sinfonia. TARTINI, Trumpet Concerto in D major; DVORAK, Nocturne in B major Op.40; VIVALDI, Il Riposo per il S.S. Natale; SUK, Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale Saint Wenceslas Op.53a; CIMAROSA, Oboe Concerto in C minor; VIVALDI, Winter from ‘Four Seasons’ Op.8 No.4; SUK, Serenade for strings in E flat major.
Programme 2 (Durham, Rothbury, Cullercoats, Hexham) - Tristan Gurney, director; Amy Yule, flute; Stephen Reay, bassoon; Royal Northern Sinfonia. MOZART, Serenade No.13 in G major, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; VIVALDI, Bassoon Concerto in A minor; CHOPIN, Nocturne Op.37 No.2 in G; VIVALDI, Flute Concerto Op.10 No.2, La Notte; VIVALDI, Winter from Four Seasons Op.8 No.4; BORODIN, String Quartet No.2 in D major.
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