Review: Music for Advent and Christmas, Fulneck Moravian Church, Saturday 7th December 2019

AN elegant 18th century Church forms the heart of the historic Moravian settlement of Fulneck which overlooks the steeply wooded Pudsey Beck.

The decorative shoe box shaped interior with its wrap around balcony and gilded organ casing has intimacy, warmth and resonance. Last Saturday’s programme of seasonal music given by Leeds Minster-based St Peter’s Singers conducted Dr Simon Lindley - he also played the harpsichord continuo - superbly realised its unique spatial qualities. Sopranos and tenors were arranged to the left, altos and basses to the right of an ensemble drawn from the National Festival Orchestra. The placing of a trumpet on the balcony and timpani at opposite ends of the room further enhanced the sonic effect of Bach’s Cantata No 30: Come, Rejoice ye Faithful, Come. Instrumental textures and each one of the thirty five meticulously balanced voices emerged with clarity in this acoustic. Solo arias were finely nuanced by soprano Claire Strafford, altos Esther Coleman and Constanze Hartley, tenor David Brown and bass Quentin Brown.

Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols was premiered at the 1912 Three Choirs Festival. Traditional carols On Christmas Night and Come All You Worthy Gentleman are given a rapturous RVW sound; expressively wrought on this occasion By the bass Edward Thornton with the St Peter’s Singers and National Festival Orchestra.

Four years earlier than the Fulneck Church opened in 1746, Handel’s Messiah was premiered at Neal’s New Music Hall in Dublin’s quaintly named Fishamble Street. The size and shape of the Moravian Church resembles that music hall and the instrumental and vocal forces assembled last Saturday for Part 1 of Messiah were very similar in scale to the Dublin premiere. Albeit bolstered at Fulneck by the sonorities of the restored Snetzler-Binns organ played by David Houlder. Momentum, shape and balance are hallmarks of Dr Lindley’s Messiah performances and this one was no exception. The visceral power of the great choruses was unforgettable in this acoustic. Nowhere more so than in the Hallelujah Chorus (from Part lll) topped by the clarion trumpet and underpinned by organ, orchestra and timpani.

Geoffrey Mogridge