The fading afternoon light saw the cathedral full of concert-goers for another event in Music in the Round's Love and War festival. We sat in the newly refurbished nave for a mixed bag of choral and instrumental music, all under the banner of 'One Equal Music'.
The concert started with Ensemble 360’s Benjamin Nabarro playing Biber's reverential Passacaglia for solo violin. Playing from a side-chapel, invisible to much of the audience, he stood at the eagle lectern. This was an apt symbol as Nabarro's performance was given wings by the spacious acoustic of the cathedral, the dense counterpoint and frequent double stops had room to breathe. The playing was always quietly intense and solemn, the repeating four-note theme never getting lost amidst busy semiquavers, the timbre clean and pure.
Nabarro was joined by fellow Ensemble 360 members for three movements from Haydn's Good Friday-inspired Seven Last Words from the Cross, in its 1787 version for string quartet. These lovely pieces received beautifully sensitive performances, the emotion deeply felt but quietly understated, with Nabarro's expressive cantabile line always well supported by Claudia Ajmone-Marsan, Krzysztof Chorzelski (joining Ensemble 360 for this festival), and Gemma Rosefield.
The instrumental items were alternated with choral numbers, given by a large chorus gathered especially for the concert. The choir – made up of singers from around the city – was conducted by Music in the Round's Artistic Director Angus Smith and bravely tackled three big twentieth-century set-pieces, interwoven with plainchant from the Requiem Mass.
Disciplined, though sometimes lacking final polish, in Arvo Pärt's melismatic An der Wassern zu Babel (accompanied, in a change to the published programme, by the organ, sensitively played by Music in the Round's own Fraser Wilson) and James MacMillan's Lux Aeterna, the results were most effective in Górecki's beautifully meditative Totus Tuus. The louder block chords were well tuned and blended, the flowing tempo conveying a simple solemnity that was never cloying. Instrumentalists and singers were brought together for the first time in the touching encore, Beethoven's Elegischer Gesang.
It was a thoughtfully programmed concert that projected real musical diversity – bringing together both amateur and professional musicians, in music that represented multiple styles, genres and historical periods. Its success was not only down to the strength of the music-making, but also to the consistent feel of understated solemnity that united it all.