I had almost forgotten the medicinal balm live music can offer. This unassuming concert (one of several for the Orchestra’s festival season this summer) reminded me of just that. Conducted by the prolific and charismatic John Lubbock, the evening’s programme boasted of soothing and uplifting favourites of Thomas Tallis and Vaughan Williams. In amongst the favourites were featured some lesser-known Motets and arrangements, complementing the narrative and swelling ethereal delight in song. Performed in the beloved and historic Dorchester Abbey, these angelical performances were lifted into greater acoustic heights.
Having been restricted by recent government measures, Lubbock had hoped to produce his full choir for the evening, though instead sourced five voices alongside his own (as bass), and his “star” violinist Jan Schmolck to carry out his vision. Opening with some well-known Motets by Tallis, Lubbock encouraged a little ‘round’ with the audience, filling the Abbey with a soft three-part harmony. The following arrangements by Bob Chilcott, and Harry Escott’s reflection on Tallis’ O Nata Lux, set a cinematic and modern tone, with clear and bright performances from sopranos Hannah Fraser-Mackenzie and Emily Wenman.
An unexpected gem of the evening was a Chaconne by J S Bach from Partita no 2 in D minor. With Schmolck’s strident and sensitive interpretation, mezzo Polly Jeffries shone alongside Wenman and Fraser-Mackenzie in a spellbinding conversation between voice and violin. Having chosen to accompany the intense and complex Chaconne with wordless vocal harmonies, Lubbock succeeded in creating a climactic and other-worldly piece.
As a prelude to the much-anticipated Vaughan Williams, two Latin Motets by Charles Villiers Stanford, a late romantic composer, provided a rising tide of captivating phrases. Next, Alec Roth’s Men and Angels helped to translate this “as above, so below” narrative with earthy textures from Schmolck’s violin as an additional descant and an unfussy and airy arrangement of the six voices.
With the lightest of touches, we were led through an unrivalled arrangement and performance of Lark Ascending. In the incredibly capable hands of Schmolck and the band of singers, to say we were transported would be an understatement. Standout performances too came from tenor Dominic Bevan and baritone Jonathan Wood. The absorbing nature of the arrangement meant the smaller choir filled our senses and the Abbey’s eaves with ease. In the last phrase of the violin, a songbird chirruped from outside as if to join in. A musical triumph - nature approved.
If you’re planning on seeing a live classical concert this summer in Oxfordshire, make it OSJ.