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Review: The Theatre of Royalty, Durham Cathedral

A majestic concert got the region's festive programme of to a flying start in the fitting surroundings of Durham Cathedral, says Rob Barnes

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Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral was the majestic setting for The Theatre of Royalty concert on Saturday evening, showcasing some of the glorious music composed for Royal occasions and for the London theatre, from the late 1600s to the mid 1700s.

The needs of both helped bring about some of the very finest music of the Baroque period, composed in the main by three of great composers, Purcell, Blow and Handel.

The Durham Singers decided upon a programme with lots of sparkle, in contrast to the more serious music heard in so many recent Remembrance events at this time of year, and it worked well.

They shared the stage with their fine instrumental Ensemble, the Durham County Youth Choir, celebrating its 50th anniversary, and two soloists, Saltburn-born rising-star soprano Rowan Pierce, and trumpeter Robert Farley.

The large and enthusiastic audience in the Cathedral was treated to music written for Coronations, including three of the Handel’s four anthems for George II in 1727, and one each from Purcell and Blow for James II in 1685.

The choirs handled the more intricate writing of the two latter composers very well in the challenging acoustic, and obviously had great fun with the tuneful Handel pieces. Thou Knowest, Lord, the unaccompanied anthem written for Queen Mary’s funeral in 1695, was performed beautifully by the County Youth Choir, who featured prominently and confidently throughout.

Alongside excerpts from Purcell’s work King Arthur, Handel’s work in the theatre was also well represented. The aria Endless Pleasure, Endless Love from the opera Semele was sung exquisitely by Rowan Pierce, making her entrance by walking the full length of the Cathedral aisle, to the tune of Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – a nice theatrical touch.

She also coped splendidly with not just the acoustic, but also the differing demands placed upon her by these Baroque composers, projecting her voice admirably, especially in the quieter passages.

The trumpet was a key instrument in so much Baroque music, and Robert Farley had Purcell’s fine tunes to play, as well as a lovely part to accompany Rowan’s Pierce’s aria from Handel’s Solomon.

To complete a fine evening’s entertainment, the soloists, the orchestra and both choirs joined in the glorious finale piece from Handel’s oratorio Samson.

It was a well-balanced choice of repertoire, which gave all of the performers a chance to shine, and a fine prelude to the Christmas music season in the North East.

Rob Barnes

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