‘An evening of emotional depth and vibrant musical colour.’

Clara reviews the Yorkshire Bach Choir concert for SCENE. 5 stars.

(Image: Lucy Russell)

I now sit in York’s magnificent St Lawrence Parish Church. The chatter of the audience fills the vast space. The indistinct sentences dissipate as the Yorkshire Bach Choir and their long-standing conductor, Peter Seymour, take the stage; in its turn begins a loud applause.

The concert is opened by three anthems composed by George Jeffreys. From the outset, the choir blends together very nicely, with each vocal section sounding like a singular voice. I am particularly struck by the soprano soloist Kasia Slawski in the third anthem, Rise, heart, thy Lord is risen. She hits every note right at its centre, giving each phrase immense care and attention as her magnificent voice soars to the back row.

Lucy Russell, leader of the world-renowned Fitzwilliam String Quartet, now begins to play Biber’s wild Violin Sonata No.3. I am completely transfixed by her phenomenal playing and unmatchable stage presence as she draws the audience in, making the piece completely her own. 

Here she debuts a unique violin, crafted by Roger Hansell, whom I will be interviewing for a future SCENE article. On the body of the instrument is an intricate floral design, hand painted by Hansell himself. Its rich colours match the tone of the piece perfectly.

Biber’s sonata takes unexpected twists and turns, with double stopping, rapid demi-semi quavers, and intricate ornamentation throughout. Not only does Lucy make light of its virtuosic nature, but she plays into every single note with style. At the end of the evening we discussed the Sonata, to which Lucy said the piece “rocks” – I couldn’t have put it better myself, except to say that she rocked the piece!

The second half of the concert consists of Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas. Based on book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, the opera tells a story of romance and tragedy, between Trojan hero Aeneas, and Dido, the Queen of Carthage. The pair fall in love, but are torn apart by Aeneas’ duties to the Gods. Out of heartbreak comes the death of Dido, by her own hand.

In the first scene of Act 2, The Cave, I am entranced by the performance of Caroline Sartin-Smith as the wicked sorceress. Her vocal performance is very impressive, but with this she brings to the role an evil humour, capturing the scheming and tricksy character of the witch impeccably, something which is difficult without the costumes and props of a theatre production.

The audience is taken through an emotional whirlwind in the final scene of the evening, The Ships. Rob Sotillo captures the role of a very drunken sailor excellently. Emerging through the audience with an untied tie around his neck, he gallops along the church pews and delivers a hysterical performance, interchanging exemplary vocals with swigs from his bottle.

Bethany Seymour, as Dido, brings the evening to a close admirably with her performance of Dido’s famous lament, When I am Laid in Earth. I feel her pain within me as she pours out her heartbreak through her vocal cords. As the performance comes to an end we are left with a pause of silence in appreciation. The uproar of applause begins again, this time even louder than before.

Overall, the well-chosen programme combined with the skilful musicianship of the vocalists and players alike produced an evening of emotional depth and vibrant musical colour – an unforgettable performance. 

With thanks to the Yorkshire Bach Choir for making this review possible. The Choir will be performing the Brahms Requiem on Saturday 8th of June in St Lawrence Parish Church, as part of the York Festival of Ideas. For more details, visit their website: yorkshirebachchoir.org.uk. Student tickets are just £5!