Review: University of York Choir and Chamber Orchestra, York Minster, March 13

WELL, what an interesting programme this was: Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas, some of Bruckner’s motets and rounding off with Parry’s setting of Milton’s Blest pair of Sirens.

Britten’s cantata (libretto by Eric Crozier) took the form of musical snapshots of Nicolas’s life from birth to death. What really impressed here was the balance maintained by conductor Peter Seymour throughout the performance: an enormous choir, chamber orchestra, tenor soloist and the Choristers of York Minster in this Minster acoustic.

Most of the workload falls on the tenor soloist and Jonathan Hanley was, on the whole, very good indeed. Mr Hanley has a lovely upper register and this suited the work to a T. His performance in He Journeys To Palestine and Nicolas And The Pickled Boys was very moving.

The performance of the Pickled Boys themselves – Martin Sketchley, Michael Adams and Lucas Selby-Jerrold – were also sweet, as was Benjamin Thomas’s young Nicolas.

Much credit must go to conductor Robert Sharpe. The tempo of the two hymns was too slow, but we, the "people’s choir", were just excellent.

Anton Bruckner’s motets were very good indeed, although there were some wobbly bass contributions. The opening Ecce Sacerdos Magnus, with the trombone and organ support (a very accomplished performance by Ben Morris) had the musical hairs standing on the back of one’s head.

The most satisfying performance was Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s Blest Pair Of Sirens. This was an exquisite vocal setting and one clearly relished by choir and audience alike.

Steve Crowther