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Germany Renaissance & Romance

Crosthwaite Church, Keswick
28 February 2016

Concerts at Crosthwaite 2016 got off to a resounding start on Sunday evening with a concert by the Wordsworth Singers under the inspiring leadership of their conductor Mark Hindley.  It was an unusual programme, including works by German composers of the 16th and 19th centuries.  The concert was well supported by a large and enthusiastic audience.

The outstanding work was the Mass in E flat for double choir by Josef Rheinberger. Although his music is not widely known today, he was an influential figure both as a composer and teacher in Munich, and his organ sonatas have remained in the repertoire. In this fine Mass setting the two four-part choirs often sing answering phrases antiphonally, and there is much beautiful counterpoint interweaving throughout the texture. The Wordsworth Singers brought out these features most effectively, with a wide range of warm expression.

Three hundred years earlier the leading Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus was also appointed to the court at Munich, where he became one of the most prolific composers of his day, alongside Palestrina in Italy and Byrd in England, with whom his work is often compared. His set of motets entitled Prophetiae Sibyllarum (Prophecies of the Sibyls) exemplifies his polyphonic style although some of the harmony is rather more daring than usual. It was an enterprising choice and there were many good features, including choral blend and balance, but in some quieter and more chromatic passages the pitch was not always consistent.

The best known of the three featured composers was Mendelssohn, whose Six Motets for the Church’s year were written for Berlin Cathedral. There is an uplifting optimism in the Christmas motet Rejoice, ye people of the earth which is contrasted with the more reflective style of the Passiontide motet Lord, remember not our wrongdoings, where the words were given a more personal impact by a solo quartet consisting of Julie Leavett, Pippa Mayfield, Pete Bowyer and Simon Mortimer.

The award-winning Wordsworth Singers have further concerts in the pipeline, of which details may be found on their website, www.wordsworthsingers.org.uk. The next concert at Crosthwaite Church, Keswick, will be an organ recital given by John Kitchen, Organist of Edinburgh University, on Monday 18th April at 6.00 p.m.

IAN HARE