English Touring Opera’s title for this concert became a little more accurate with one of the two substantial solo cantatas dropped, Il pianto di Maria, which Handel didn’t pen anyway leaving the superb Donna, che in ciel, which he did.
Curiously, two soloists performed it, soprano Gillian Webster who sustained the long largo aria with considerable beauty and mezzo-soprano Helen Sherman who tackled the two melisma ornamented ones with admirable accuracy, before joining forces for the final one with chorus.
Either side of it were two of Handel’s three Latin Vesper settings, Nisi Dominus and the better-known Dixit Dominus.
Wondering how the Sheffield Cathedral Songmen would get away with singing the top line in Dixit Dominus was resolved by the non-advertised female presence of the cathedral’s Schola Cantorum.
The 17 voices, allied to the ten (plus two) songmen combined as a formidable choral force, a little raw in the higher soprano reaches once or twice, perhaps, but creating a vibrant, exciting sound.
Balance and tone were excellent as was, by and large, clarity of line in the part writing and the final, tremendous Gloria Patri was just that!
It elicited rapturous applause from a capacity audience and ETO’s ebullient conductor Jonathan Peter Kenny extracted the ‘plus two’ from the songmen’s ranks, the choir directors Neil Taylor (Songmen) and Joshua Hales (Schola Cantorum), to take well-merited solo bows.
Gillian Webster received special applause, too. She had stepped in for the ailing Paula Sides that morning and learnt the music she had to sing thereafter. It certainly didn’t show in her confident delivery of it.
Another stand-in, American countertenor Tai Oney revealed a smoothly impressive voice, while tenor John-Colyn Gyeantey and, especially, baritone Nicholas Merryweather did not let the ETO side down.