Opera + Classical Music Reviews

A Baroque Christmas: Eboracum Baroque @ York Mansion House, York

3 December 2021

York ushers in the Christmas season with help from Eboracum Baroque.

Eboracum Baroque

York Mansion House (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

Few places are more festive than York when the huge Christmas tree is in place in St Helen’s Square (certainly putting this year’s Trafalgar Square one to shame) and the lights are blazing all around. The Mansion House itself adds much to the colourful scene, the atmosphere only a little sullied by a street performer, with whom the ensemble within coped heroically; it’s doubtful whether Bach ever had his music accompanied by such caterwauling.

Fortunately the outside interference did not persist throughout, so a sizeable audience was able to enjoy music both familiar and unknown to many – given that there was competition on the same evening from the eminent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the York Early Music Festival, it’s heartening to see that such a relatively small city is able to fill two venues with baroque music.

Eboracum Baroque

St Helen’s Square (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

Eboracum Baroque has been one of the success stories of what might be called the pandemic period, since this small, young ensemble has been able to build on its early successes and provide musical solace online and in recordings even in the darkest days. Youthful zeal however is not the whole story, since the group has built its success on the winning formula of performing the familiar and the rare in authentic settings, with the more obscure pieces and instruments introduced by the group’s director, Chris Parsons.  

“Eboracum Baroque has been one of the success stories of what might be called the pandemic period…”

Both audience and performers shared in the delight of once again being ‘live’ in this ornate setting, enthusiasm probably oiled by the ongoing collaboration with York Gin. That enthusiasm grew with the first item on the programme, Bach’s ‘Jauchzet Gott’ from BVW 51 – it’s a gloriously festive piece with many vocal challenges, all of which were met with aplomb by a soprano new to most of us, Isabelle Haile. She already has an impressive CV, has studied with Amanda Roocroft and is presently studying for a Masters in Vocal Performance. One does not have to stick one’s neck out very far to suggest that hers is a name we shall be hearing very often in future.

In fact this concert was really a collaboration of virtuosi, with Miri Nohl’s ‘cello not only providing exciting accompaniment to the singing and other instruments, but giving highly individual performances of the Sarabande and Gigue from Bach’s Suite in C Major BWV 1009. The Recorder was showcased impressively by Miriam Monaghan, especially in the selection from Jacob Van Eyck, the idol of all professional players of this underrated instrument. Laurence Lyndon Jones provided witty support from the Harpsichord.

Perhaps the highlights of the evening were the pieces by Scarlatti and Handel, the former’s rousingly cheerful ‘Con voce festiva’ which united all the performers, and the exquisitely beautiful ‘Pastorale’ from O di Betlemme, sung with nuanced phrasing by Isabelle Haile. Handel’s ‘Let the bright Seraphim’ from Samson was an impressive show of virtuosity from Chris Parsons’ trumpet and Isabelle Haile’s soprano, the two amicably battling it out in the contest for which ‘voice’ is the more ostentatiously fluent. A tough choice.  

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