JS Bach and Mahler – worlds of sensibility from Inkinen and the NZSO

MAHLER 7 – Mysteries of the Night

JS BACH – Double Violin Concerto in D Minor

MAHLER – Symphony No.7

Vesa-Matti Leppänen and Pietari Inkinen (violins)

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Pietari Inkinen (conductor)

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday 10th November, 2012

Guest review by Ben Booker

There is something distinctly summery about Bach’s D-minor Concerto for Two Violins, and the fairly full audience suggested that this particular programme was not at all disagreeable to Wellingtonians following one of the city’s rare but sparkling summery days.

Bach’s music seems to have fallen into comparative orchestral disuse in recent times, so it was refreshing to hear it live, by a condensed edition of the NZSO. And what spectacle it provided! Such beauty! Such elegance!

While the very opening of the Vivace may not have been quite as metrically precise as rehearsed, the orchestra quickly showed itself to be a force not of accompaniment, but of thoughtful and involved musical collaboration with the soloists. Orchestral cohesion thereafter was remarkable, and despite the use of less rubato than many historically-informed performances (something this writer’s Romantic tastes have a weakness for around internal cadences!), the soloists’ micro-changes to tempo made such unity of movement impressive, especially in the absence of a conductor.

The regular conductor, of course, was playing first violin. Pietari Inkinen demonstrated an incredibly expressive tone quality – clear and bell-like, but with a certain hint of melancholy and loneliness that is quite impossible to adequately describe here. The usual concertmaster, Vesa-Matti Leppänen, was the other soloist, and the effortlessly broad sounds in his superb playing provided a great contrast with Inkinen, really demonstrating the contrapuntal and conversational design of the concerto.

The famous Largo ma non troppo was introduced by a wonderfully timeless piece of internal musical ponderment from Leppänen, and the entire movement demonstrated such a clarity of texture, such deep concentration upon the unfurling melodic lines, that at times, it seemed as if Bach’s harmony was just an exquisitely happy coincidence amongst the matchless counterpoint and dialogue of the two players and amongst the orchestra.

Following that, the bustling Allegro provided much in the way of contrast to the preceding movement, though I could not help but wish for a touch more industriousness and volatility in the orchestral parts. The soloists’ articulation and dialogue, again, was excellent, and both made wonderful use of vibrato; it was used sparingly – less as a general seasoning, and more as a special spice, which made its expressive effect enormously more powerful.

The orchestra certainly found this elusive industrious sound in then opening of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, however. The brass, as throughout, was dark and clear, and the rather Enid Blytonesque sense of mischief and the unfamiliar was portrayed very well in the opening movement. During most of the movement, there was a sense of a solid sonic foundation, yet a more whimsical and explosive surface, which suited the music perfectly.

A common problem in performing Austro-German music of the later Romantic period is the temptation to lapse into ‘parade syndrome’ – where the music disintegrates into a passing parade of shallow effects. At times in the first movement, I was worried that this was about to occur, as there seemed to be a slight lack of hierarchy in the passagework: every passage was being treated as a very important section, and this was a little too much to digest easily.

Nevertheless, changes to momentum were handled well by conductor and orchestra, with sudden variations in colour and style bringing in other-worldly characters, leaving the listener only to wonder what might have happened had Mahler been a cinematic composer in the more recent past.

This all built up to a dreadfully thrilling climax before recapitulation. While I sometimes found Inkinen’s string-dominated textures a little too pretty for the music, there were excellent moments of brass interjections, including a very flatulent low F sharp from the tuba! A sense of despondency and internal struggle in the coda was captured well, making the slightly troubled march to conclude the movement all the more memorable.

The second movement began with a very expressive horn conversation, and Inkinen’s rock-solid tempos proved to be a real asset in this movement. The creepy eccentricities of the part writing were brought out hilariously well – isolated accents, portamento, sudden changes in dynamic, exaggerated entrances, and sarcastic ritenutos abounded, creating a personified atmosphere.  Creepy and unsettled strings really pulled the spooky Scherzo off well, its title not referring so much to a literal ‘joke’ than to the post-Beethovenian connotations of dark amusement and fright. The solos were all first rate, as they had been the entire evening – my favourite had to be Julia Joyce’s precarious and eerie additions on the viola, played with exaggerated vibrato and dynamic mastery.

The second Nachtmusik movement had its share of quiet scherzo-like mutterings, but offered a complete change of aural scenery, quite in concordance with the amoroso instruction! Tension was nicely regulated by the returns to pastoral F-major sections, and the guitar and mandolin offered a nice touch, played by Doug de Vries and Dylan Lardelli respectively. While the concluding interjections were slightly too active for the nocturnal feel, the very end was as magical a moment as any.

And then the Rondo finale brought a celebratory awakening! Majestic in most places rather than overly extroverted, I could not decide whether the wonderfully-timed crescendos back to the main tune were satiric or if they were eccentric; either way, it was amusing and interesting. The movement provided much in the way of pandemonium and industry, and was just a jolly good time. Tubular bells rang bravely and wonderfully loud, and the finale just roared. I cannot recall seeing Inkinen so completely involved and immersed in the music, and his second bouquet of flowers for the evening was richly deserved. Bravo, NZSO!

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Another view: from Peter Mechen

One would immediately think that the only possible reasons for coupling Bach’s Double Violin Concerto with Mahler’s Seventh Symphony are, firstly, that each work is an absolutely wonderful piece of music, and, secondly, that because they are so different each piece acts as a kind of foil for the other – two very different worlds of sensibility, there to enjoy in splendid isolation, but to appreciate all the more when juxtaposed in the course of a single evening.

Considering further, one could regard the bringing-together of these two works as an extension of philosophies, both of the individual composers and of their respective eras. Bach’s music belongs to that inexhaustibly rich world of the Baroque, a world of inclusion and great flexibility, of gathering-together, of elaboration and increased complexity and extension of new techniques of playing, and the development of new modes of expression such as opera.

Mahler’s music, in the form of his symphonies and song-cycles, has a similar philosophy of inclusion and great flexibility, of a gathering-together, of elaboration and increasing complexity, of enormous scale and great drama, qualities that one associates with the theatre more than the abstract world of instrumental music. Mahler once described his symphonic philosophy in the words “Symphony is like the world – it should contain everything.” In a sense it’s a very “baroque-like” attitude, and one responsible for that fantastic diversity one finds in the composer’s output.

Beginning with the Bach work, this particular performance was a treat indeed, one of the violinists being the orchestra’s Music Director, Pietari Inkinen, here in partnership with his Concertmaster and fellow-Finn, Vesa-Matti Leppänen. Any suggestion of gimmickry in having one’s Music Director step into a soloist’s role in front of his or her own orchestra was here blown away by the sheer quality of the playing. What I noticed immediately was the sweetness of Inkinen’s tone as a violinist, quite different a sound to the more austere, grainier tones of his concertmaster, a difference which made for a fascinating dialogue between the two.

In terms of bowing and articulation they were a well-matched pair, with Vesa-Matti a trifle stronger and with more control when it came to keeping the bow on the strings for held notes in the midst of frenetic passages – undoubtedly one of the factors contributing to the difference in tone-quality between the two. But in most other respects they seemed to think and move as one in pursuit of the same ends, so that their separate characters met at the point of musical exchange – what one could call a creative partnership, here producing something unique and satisfying.

For the first two movements the focus seemed to be firmly upon the soloists, especially during the divine slow movement, where the “echoed” exchanges between their voices resulted in a truly affecting intensification of beauty, and the precisely “terraced” dynamics built up sequences of the figurations into beautifully-arched structures at once pure in their serenity and suffused with surrounding ambient feeling.

The finale brought the orchestra more obviously into the picture, the playing dynamic, detailed and sharply-etched; and sounding like a true partnership with the soloists rather than mere accompanying – the figurations were given terrific emphasis and point in places, and the lines seemed to really “speak” to one another and be responded to in a wonderful three-way interchange that had me on the edge of my seat throughout.

My “benchmark” for this concerto has always been the Oistrakhs, pere and fils, in a recorded performance that has come to sound increasingly romantic over the years with the rise of “authentic” string-playing. There’s a gorgeousness about it all which still melts my heart on the occasion of every “listen”, but apart from some unashamedly saturated string-tones in the finale, the orchestra does tend to stay in the background, seemingly to leave the two stellar soloists to “get on with it”, and be content with some dutiful accompanying. This NZSO partnership made more of things than that, to our great delight.

After a short interval we were back in the hall for Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, the latest in what one hopes will prove to be a complete traversal of the composer’s works by these particular forces. With memories of last year’s stellar NZSO/Inkinen performance of the Sixth Symphony continuing to resonate in our memories, this performance from the orchestra of one of the most complex and enigmatic of Mahler’s works was awaited with great excitement.

My most recent “live” experience of the symphony was in this same Michael Fowler Centre in 2009, when guest conductor Paul Daniel led the NZSO National Youth Orchestra through an almost scarily vivid performance of the work. The young players (as is usually the case with the NYO ) rose magnificently to the occasion, coping even with the conductor’s almost manic tempi throughout much of the finale. There was certainly no chance of the work “sprawling” with such a high-octane approach, even if one felt that there was more light-and-shade in some of the music’s places than was realised.

That light-and-shade was given full dues on this occasion by Pietari Inkinen and his players, as part of taking their not-quite-capacity-audience on a fantastical and far-flung symphonic journey. As is well-known, Mahler had enormous trouble with this work’s first movement, getting inspiration for its main idea only after the two middle “Nightpiece” movements had been completed, and while being rowed across a lake on his way home, his imagination stirred by the rhythm of the oars in the water. What the composer came up with could be clearly heard in the work’s portentous opening bars, the euphonium solo most expressively played here by David Bremner (“Here nature roars” as Mahler told his wife, Alma). – incidentally, Mahler specified a “tenor horn” here, which, perhaps for reasons of unavailability, wasn’t used.

After the opening, Inkinen encouraged more momentum but avoided rushing things, allowing the music time and space in which to move – and even when feelings of urgency irrupted and the march began to flail and grimace, those distinctive Leviathan-like steps whose downward lurch recurs throughout the movement served as steadying ballast, keeping feelings of panic at bay.

Here one could register Mahler’s increasingly “unmoulded” orchestral style, instruments and instrumental blocks not so much “blended” as contrasted, as the composer increasingly sought to express a sense of life’s disillusionment and dissolution. But this was a journey of startling contrasts – and how beautifully conductor and players led us into the lyrical mid-movement interlude, harp glissandi drawing back a magic curtain of nostalgia and dream-like imaginings. And then, how disturbingly the radiant climax plunged downward into darkness! – taking everything right back to the leviathan’s lair, the tread as portentous and as baleful as at the work’s opening.

From here until the movement’s end there were further irruptions of energy, regretful backward glances at happier times and a no-nonsense concluding march, Inkinen and the players risking orchestral poise in rightly stressing the music’s somewhat manic excitement and desperation. And if not every instrumental detailing was perfectly dovetailed with its neighbour, what mattered far more was the real sense conveyed of great territories traversed and different emotions registered and explored.

The first of the two Nachtmusik movements was ushered in by beautiful horn-playing, and some initial instrumental flurries, before falling in with a dark and richly mysterious processional, its “tempo giusto” allowing sufficient momentum as well as room for things to blossom. By contrast, the Scherzo evoked a volatile set of impulses, its sinuous, half-lit world poised between mockery and unease, spectral lines alternating with moments of rumbustious glee, its spookiness creating a kind of “All Hallows’ Eve” for orchestra – great fun! As for the second Nachtmusik movement , it featured the evening’s most beautiful and heartwarming orchestral playing, the detailing from solo instruments (violin, mandolin, horn, harp) simply exquisite in places – and the ending of the movement was nothing short of celestial in its effect.

And so to the finale, a movement which continues to divide critical opinion and polarize interpretation – as befits a Symphony subtitled “Song of the NIght”, the last movement is thought of by some as a return to day, especially in the wake of those two “Nachtstücke”, and the spooky Scherzo. However, the music’s extreme volatility is interpreted by others as suggesting that the day is the real culprit regarding life, that the music’s colour, energy and celebration turns into something over-wrought and oppressive, something that, by the end of the movement, has turned into a kind of nightmare of its own, a portrayal of the sickness of the society in which Mahler lived at the time, and a precursor of the horrors of the century to come. In my view, one pays one’s money and one takes from the music what one wants to take.

When I heard the NYO’s performance with Paul Daniel I thought the finale on the edge of being a madcap scramble, the players having little or no space to do more than get their fingers around the notes. While I would still prefer to hear the greater amplitude and richer detailing that Inkinen and the NZSO gave us, I think more of Daniels’ approach now, having heard other recordings; and in fact wish that I could go back and hear and enjoy the performance again. How fascinating to have had two recent “live” experiences of this work, and each strongly and differently characterized!

Interpretatively, Inkinen’s was a riskier approach in its way than Daniels’ was, because of the music’s far-flung, episodic nature, but for me it worked – and this could be attributed to both the conductor’s overall grasp of where each detail fitted into the whole, and to the concentration and skill of his players in maintaining their playing-focus over such long spans. I thought the concert in overall terms a triumph for everybody concerned, and heartily recommend to people in both Auckland and in Christchurch that they make a priority out getting themselves to hear it when the concert comes to them.















Grant Tilly at the Southcoast Gallery, Cuba St.


by Peter Coates

June 25th 2010

Cuba Street in Wellington is developing its own special character when it comes to galleries.Amongst my favourites are Cameron Drawbridge’s South Coast Gallery the Fibre Art “Minerva” Gallery and the” Thistle” with its enterprising youthful exhibitions. All are worth visiting, all bring something special to the Wellington Art Scene. Is Cuba Street doing what our Wellington Gallery should be doing ?

Although very small,  the Southcoast Gallery hosts a delightful exhibtion by the Wellington icon Grant Tilly. I have known Grant for ages – since our times at Wellington Teachers College, and illustrating children’s stories for David Crewes’  “Merry-Go-Round” children’s television programme. Later he played the good soldier Schweyk in my first stage production and fronted and voiced many of my television programmes. Grant is always a delight to work with  and his wonderful sculptural pieces (I will avoid boxes) are a permanent reminder  of  his art and friendship in my home.

Grant’s greatest gifts to his Wellington home have been the seemingly endless brilliant displays of character acting with the professional theatres of Wellington, and his legacy of beautiful drawing of the older parts of Wellington, a legacy that constantly reminds us of what we have lost and warns us of what we must not lose in the future. One of the strong features of his current exhibition are two dimensional  street scenes that take you on walks around some of our lovely old streets. Included in this exhibition also are abstract paintings developed from segments of these unusually perspectived works.

Just to keep us up with his recent artistic developments there are examples of his colourful parrot series and the circus exhibition he had at Pataka. The ingenius is evident in everything he does, and Grant like every good artist moves steadily into new challenges.

Keep it up Grant. Everyone who calls himself/herself a Wellingtonian should have one of his works in their home.

Wallowing in International Art while staying at home

The Habit of Art, by Alan Bennett

The National Theatre production, directed by Nicholas Hytner

Richard Griffiths (Fitz/W.H.Auden), Adrian Scarborough (Donald/Humphrey Carter), Alex Jennings (Henry/Benjamin Britten)

Film screened at the Penthouse Theatre, Brooklyn

Tuesday 25th May

Musings and a review by Peter Coates.

This week has been a very exciting one for me. Last Sunday I saw a performance of Wushu martial arts by twenty-four Chinese visiting experts. This was spectacular, colourful and beautifully choreographed and performed in front of an appeciative audience at the Wellington Town Hall. Modern dance choreographers in Wellington should have been along to witness it.

This was followed by another Chinese delight on Thursday. In this case it was an illustrated lecture by visiting sculptor Prof. Zhao from Shanghai. Prof. Zhao was visiting Wellington for a week, working with Richard Taylor, of Weta fame, on ideas of mutual interest.In a sensitively interpreted lecture, illustrated by a long parade of excellent visuals, we saw the dynamic sculptures of the professor, huge in size, using a wide variety of sculptural media mainly on what one would describe as ‘politically viable’ subject matter. Despite this he manages to gain strong individual expression in the subjects he chooses, and his technical brilliance is undeniable. His combination of technical skill and perceptive observation won his an award at a Venice Biennale. Prof. Zhao brought with him formulae for a form of clay unused in New Zealand which he demonstrated to Richard and his team, producing four portraits of Weta colleagues at a rate of 25 minutes each. We were lucky to have Richard along to add his experiences in China to Prof. Zhao’s story.

But this was only one aspect of his lecture. It was followed by an amazing collection of slides of the professors own collection of Chinese tradition craft – thousands of shadow puppets, pottery items, household utensils, weaving, printing blocks, painting ,calligraphy and sculpture. All had been assembled since the cultural revolution. Now highly regarded as important cultural heritage, the Chinese government is building a special museum to house this amazing collection. One day I would love to see this collection “in situ”. So much for the Chinese section of my week.

Next, the British section. On Tuesday I visited the Penthouse theatre in Brooklyn to see the British National theatre production of Alan Bennet’s “Habit of Art” . This is an example of the  relatively new technique of recording top performances overseas and playing then a matter of weeks later in  specially selected theatres throughut the world. This was originally recorded on  April 22nd ,and shown here last week. It is a system already used successfully in opera,but which is now moving into theatre. Having both produced and designed work for the stage and television – Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale” in 1982 and recorded an opera “live” from the stage for television – Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” in 1979 – the prospect for me of seeing the effect of such work today outside my DVD library was very appealing.

Alan Bennet had constructed  a play that was particularly appealing to me. It was set as a  rehearsal for a play about the relationship between Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden,who had originally worked together on documentary films for the British Post office –

“This is the night mail crossing the border,

bringing the cheque and the postal order,

letters for the rich, letters for the poor…

For the shop at the corner and the girl next door……” etc. etc….

They must have had impact on my memory because I saw those films sixty years ago ! The other work I remember was Britain’s first opera “Paul Bunyan”- with the libretto by Auden –  which I saw at London’s Sadlers Wells in the 1960’s. I must admit to not remembering much about that opera, which was originally written when Britten was sheltering in the USA during the second World War.

“The Habit of Art” is a play within a play. The actors played themselves playing Auden and Britten, moving in and out of character as the rehearsal concept demanded. Richard Jennings as Auden (Fitz as the actor) was particularly brilliant, his size and facial characteristics being very appropriate, while Alec Jennings as the less charismatic Britten (Henry as the actor) caught the character of Britten brilliantly and played the piano accompaniment needed in scenes with a boy soprano,with great aplomb.

The action of the play was set while Britten was having trouble with the composition of what turned out to be his last opera “Death in Venice”. His apparent fascination with the theme of “lost  innocence”, a theme that permeates most of his operas, was getting his friends down. Even Peter Pears tried to dissuade him from completing the opera.  Britten in this play went to his friend Auden for reassurance. Despite having a similar homosexual background which allowed him some appreciation of Thomas Mann’s original text, on which the opera was based, the friends did not manage to resolve Britten’s concern. The play was full of brilliantly witty dialogue,which we are beginning to expect from Bennett, and it is well worth seeing if you are fortunate enough to go to London.

But not here in this production. The problem is that the Screen actors Guild will only allow three performances of these video productions over a very short period of time, so it is unlikely to be seen here again. What about a local production, Circa or Downstage ?

I personally thoroughly enjoyed the whole production. I could easily believe  that I was in the National Theatre, and joined in the reactions of the recorded audience. I heard every word  and the close-ups gave me a great appreciation of the  important detail of the acting performances of Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings. As for the future don’t miss Dion Boucicault’s  “London Assurance” a National Theatre production coming  to the Penthouse soon. It is “an absolute corker of a production, one that will be talked about and chuckled over with reminiscent affection for years to come”says London’s Daily Telegraph critic. Later in the year we will be able to see the new NT production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that is coming in the next season.

Now to the last, but certainly not the least, of my splendid cultural week. This time from the Metropolitan Opera, New York. It was the Sunday 29th May screening of Rossini’s  “Armida” production, starring the great Renee Fleming and five top coloratura tenors!!! I didn’t know the world had so many!

I suppose most of us have got used to the use of microphones on singers to allow most of the modern music theatre classics to be performed. But this is opera, and it is untainted accoustic sound we are dealing with. Singers must be able to project their voices through an eighty piece orchestra, and communicate to several thousand in a large, often accoustically unsympathetic, theatre.

The main problem is balancing the sound, and the placement and use of microphones so that they are not seen, but can balance the sound to fit the perspective of the picture. This an artform for the sound engineer, but I did spot one shotgun microphone in the orchestral pit. When recording the one opera that I recorded “live” from the stage with an audience I was lucky to have John Neill working with me to solve such problems. John is currently “Head of Sound” for Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post.

Although I did detect six “dropouts” during the four hour performance I was not at all put off the performance by these. I have only had the experience of two Rossini operas ‘the Barber of Seville” which I produced for television,and a brilliant “Count Ory”production by Antony Besch which I saw in London in the 1960’s. “Armida” was totally unknown to me, and because it was a first ever production by the Metropolitan Opera, it would be unknown to most opera lovers.

Unknown it might have been, but like all Rossini operas it was full of very tuneful music, the usual wonderfully accelerating finales that are a Rossini trademark, some absolutely wonderful tenor-soprano duets, coloratura tenor arias and duets, a tenor trio worth paying the thirty dollars entrance fee for, alone, and a dramatic coloratura aria of immense difficulty sung by the great Renee Fleming, that ended the opera with amazing elan.

Described by Renee Fleming as “the most difficult soprano aria in opera” this is amazing in its demands – especially with its wide vocal range and the coloratura gymnastics involved.  But this was not a one woman show. I must also commend the work of yet another great lyric tenor on the international scene – Lawrence  Browlee, a young negro singer who has featured in “The Barber of Seville” and “Cinderella” productions at the Met. He had plenty of top “C’s” and at least two top “D’s” to contend with in the opera, which he did comfortably; and his articulation of the coloratura was accurate and neat. Juan Diego Florez – who is my favourite tenor and who will be in next year’s Met Season playing the principal tenor role in “The Count Ory”- beware!

The opera, we are assured, is about love and revenge..but what opera isn’t ? To emphasize this point the producer creates two miming characters who play the roles of these two emotions – characters who press the point throughout the production. I was initially uncofortable with their use, but by the last act ,when they interacted successfully with Renee Fleming in her demanding final aria, I was persuaded. The concept was entirely justified.

Amongst the other gems in this production is a ballet involving female dancers dressed as soldiers, who become ballerinas and devils that become ballerinas and finally go back to being devils. Sounds odd ,but it is very amusing. The costuming throughout the opera is sumptuous and colorful, especially for the demons.The set is simple but accoustically excellent. The production had its weird elements – with huge insects inhabiting the stage during the third act – but most of the time it was highly entertaining.

One of the features that I particularly enjoyed was to hear the singers and producer talk about their roles during the intervals. Very interesting – but how do they do it, when it is obviously recorded during a performance of a a three hour opera that is so physically demanding for them?

Getting back to the theme of my article, isn’t it wonderful how we are no longer as isolated as we have been from the glories of world culture ? How we no longer have to pay vast fortunes to travel to Europe, Britain ,the United States or China to enjoy the cultural heritage of others and the latest plays and operas and the wonderful new stars that are seemingly being discovered all the time. In one week I saw some outstanding entertainment from Britain, the United States and China. It’s a sign of the times.

But this is only the beginning. In November the 2010 Met season will begin with eleven  new productions including both “Rheingold” and “Walkure” with Bryn Terfel, “Don Pasquale“ with Anna Netrebko, “Lucia du Lammermoor with Natalie Dessay, “Boris Godunov”,”Don Carlos”. “Il Trovatore”, and the “Count Ory” with Juan Diego Florez, and ”Capriccio” with Renee Fleming. Further film delights include “The full Monteverdi” in June…which looks and sounds – according to the brilliant trailer – absolutely  scrumptious. It looks like I’m going to be going to the Penthouse a lot over the next year…if my pocket can bear the strain !

The Tudor Consort – an afternoon of choral filigree

J.S.BACH – The Six Motets BWV 225-230

Tudor Consort, directed by Michael Stewart

St Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Saturday September 12 2009

Review by Anna McGregor

Seats were scarce at St Andrews on the Terrace on Saturday afternoon as the Tudor Consort presented their programme of six motets attributed to J.S. Bach. Admired by generations of musicians, these works have been described as ‘a pinnacle of absolute vocal music’, and greatly influenced the choral music of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahms. This was a rare opportunity to experience all six works in succession and provided the listener with a unique platform to compare the facets of each.

Under the direction of Michael Stewart, the Tudor Consort produced a well-blended and clean sound, successfully negotiating highly demanding vocal lines with stamina. The 21-strong ensemble split into two antiphonal choirs for the first half of the programme, opening with Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225), accompanied by Douglas Mews on chamber organ and Emma Goodbeheere on baroque cello. The balance and colour between the choirs was well matched, enabling the ensemble to smoothly interplay during alternating passages. Unfortunately the continuo was often overwhelmed – subtleties of articulation and timbre may have become more apparent with the addition of a small string section.

The group re-united in the second half for the centrepiece of the programme, Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227) with soloists Anna Sedcoe, Erin King, Andrea Cochrane, Richard Taylor and Richard Walley emerging from within the ensemble. Almost in defiance of its conception as a funeral motet, this is a colourful and highly emotive masterpiece as well as a gauntlet of textural demands for any ensemble. The Tudor Consort shifted with ease and breadth of expression between highly contrapuntal fugues to reduced chamber sections to strident but lyrical chorales.

What better way to spend an afternoon than fully immersed in Bach – credit to the Tudor Consort for fantastic programming and a very fine performance.