WINCHESTER’S Waynflete Singers devised an engaging programme of both choral and instrumental masterpieces from the two giants of the Baroque period, Bach and Handel, on Saturday, March 9. 

Born in the same year (1685) they both displayed consummate skills in writing for massed voices as well as detailed intimate compositions for chamber ensembles. 

This well-drilled choir was matched in the cathedral by the professional period ensemble Florilegium together with excellent soloists.

The latter included the choir’s regular accompanist George Castle who part-directed Handel’s so-called ‘Cuckoo and Nightingale’ organ concerto in F. His clean dexterous playing was well suited to the solo part which the composer normally improvised initially. Again, without a conductor, ten members of Florilegium produced a sparkling third Brandenburg Concerto. 

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The Handel choral choice was the rarely performed ‘Dettingen Te Deum’ – a compendium of all the composer’s tricks of vocal scoring. Rich block harmonies, imitative textures, brief unaccompanied phrases and echo effects were all convincingly delivered and calmly controlled by conductor Andrew Lumsden. And Bach’s Magnificat must surely be one of that composer’s finest shorter choral works. As with the Te Deum his chorus is divided into five parts, splitting the sopranos – unfazed by the challenge in this performance. Supported by trumpets and drums, along with many beautiful woodwind contributions, this was a suitably joyous interpretation.

A quintet of vocal soloists added immaculate solos and ensembles in both religious pieces. Very experienced contralto Catherine Wyn-Rogers was joined by four outstanding young professionals: sopranos Rowan Pierce and Aoife Miskelly, tenor Gwilym Bowen and bass Morgan Pearse.

Fast tempi adopted in many places (as in the breath-taking outer movements of Bach’s Brandenburg and the fiery ‘Fecit potentiam’ of the Magnificat) risk losing detail in such a resonant acoustic but never the energy and vigour of both these legendary composers and here their 20th century interpreters! 

By Derek Beck