Cockermouth Harmonic Society

Cockermouth Harmonics Society – Festival Concert 30 June 2012

Cockermouth Harmonics put together a fantastic programme for their well-attended festival concert.   Welcome to all the pleasures was written by Purcell for the first musical celebration in 1683 of the feast of Saint Cecilia, the patron of musicians and church music.  Ian Thompson (Conductor) directed from the harpsichord.  Five soloists, Jacqueline Pischorn, Fiona Weakley (sopranos), Timothy Penrose (countertenor), Robert Thompson (tenor) and Jonathan Millican (bass), took part with strings and choir.  The score gave opportunities for soloists to sing alone, with each other in different combinations and with the choir.  The Lonsdale Baroque Ensemble, a string quartet plus double-bass and harpsichord, provided the sensitive accompaniment.  The choir and church organ, played by Hugh Davies, joined for Walter Carroll’s (1869-1955) setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, the Songs of Mary and of Simeon from St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  

Music is an on-going enterprise and it was good to see the programme include works by ‘local celebrity composer’ Philip Wood who is still very much alive.  His Aria, Recitative and Rondo, each part a different perspective on human love, was written for the countertenor James Bowman and performed on this occasion by Timothy Penrose and Tina MacRae (cello).  The voice and cello, harmonics and all, complemented each other perfectly.  Alfred Deller, born 100 years ago and to whom the first item was dedicated, first brought the pure falsetto male voice into the concert hall in the 1940s.

Look Up, Sweet Babe, receiving its first performance, came next.  A setting of Richard Crashaw’s poem about the visit of the Magi to the Christchild, the words recall that first eye contact between a baby and those who wish the child well.   Fiona Weakley’s voice emerged from the choral background and then established itself in a wonderful piece of singing.  Philip Wood joined the performers to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause.

All performers came together in the six-section O sing unto the Lord, a setting of Psalm 96 by Purcell in which Jonathan Millican played a prominent role well.

With accompaniment from the string section, Ian Thompson played solo organ for the instrumental piece, Organ Concerto in F by Handel, which opened the second half.   The sub-title of this work is the ‘Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ and their songs could be heard clearly in solo and in duet.

The Oratorio The Story of Jephte by Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) brought proceedings to a close.  In an unusual coincidence the composer’s surname, meaning ‘dearest’, is an apt comment on the story from the biblical Book of Judges.  Jephte played by Robert Thompson, asks God for victory in battle and, in return, promises to sacrifice whatever comes out of the door of his house at his homecoming.   His only child, an un-named daughter, played by Jacqueline Pischorn, greets him skipping and dancing.  Oratorio singers cannot make grand operatic gestures and have to act through their voices and facial expressions.  Jacqueline Pischorn’s performance was superb.  Choir, ensemble and soloists combined to provide several spine tingling musical moments as the story proceeded to its tearful conclusion.

Martyn Evans