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Review: Manchester Camerata at Lichfield Festival

The opening concert of the Lichfield Festival featured two world premieres.

Manchester Camerata at Lichfield Festival
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Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helspeth plays with Manchester Camerata.
Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helspeth plays with Manchester Camerata.

In Sonia Stevenson’s second year as artistic director, the new course of the Lichfield Festival is becoming clear - and it’s a bold one. The opening concert featured two world premieres. Some might see that as a gamble; if so, the size of the audience suggested that it’s paid off.

It helps, of course, that Composer in Residence Deborah Pritchard’s music is so listenable. The English Symphony Orchestra made a stir with her Wall of Water a couple of years back, and her new choral work We Remember Them – sensitively sung by the Lichfield Cathedral Chorus under Ben Lamb - found the same happy mixture of sonic adventure (a magical opening, with whispered words rustling over a deep bass rumble) and reassurance. It’ll fit neatly into the English cathedral tradition.

Pritchard’s trumpet concerto Seven Halts on the Somme was equally engaging: inspired by paintings by Hughie O’Donoghue, Pritchard crafts an atmospheric and deeply beautiful act of musical remembrance. The strings of the Manchester Camerata shimmered and whirled while soloist Tine Thing Helseth orated over the top. Helseth didn’t sound entirely comfortable, and it was all over startlingly quickly – but the reception was warm.

Conductor Ben Gernon handled its corners deftly and went on to shape a glowing, expansive account of Brahms’s A German Requiem in a reduced scoring for strings, horns, percussion and harp. I’ve not heard the Cathedral Chorus soar quite like that before. But the unexpected highlight of the evening came with Barber’s Adagio, Gernon subtly emphasising the bass line and letting the famous melody unfurl like a Bach aria. This local lad (he’s originally from Shropshire) is conducting the Chicago Symphony later this month. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: watch him like a hawk.

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