THIS year’s Lake District Summer Music Festival opened with a concert at Ulverston's Coronation Hall by the Northern Chamber Orchestra under the dynamic direction of leading violinist Nicholas Ward with guest soprano Ailish Tynan, writes CLIVE WALKLEY. The programme featured works by Cimarosa, Handel, Mozart and the late Sir John Manduell.

Handel’s Water Music, Suite No I opened the programme. This much loved work, first performed on the River Thames in front of King George 1 in 1717, gained its 20th Century popularity in a version by the conductor Hamilton Harty and Handel’s gift for melody and his ability to write grand ceremonial music has ensured it a place in the repertoire ever since.

The Northern Chamber Orchestra is not a period instrument orchestra but, playing on modern instruments, the players gave a stylish, spirited baroque performance, rhythmically incisive with phrases finely shaped. The wind players distinguished themselves in their demanding solo passages. Particularly impressive was the textual clarity achieved by this small, highly disciplined orchestra of 14 string players, two oboes, bassoon and two horns – such a delight to the ear.

Following Handel’s joyful Suite came the UK premiere of the late Sir John Manduell’s powerful Elegy for Strings, originally written as string quartet in memory of Sir John’s friend and colleague, Christopher Rowland, who tragically died in 2007. The strings were sensitive to the nuances of this dramatic work. The thematic material was striking and the piece had a clear structure making it possible for an audience unfamiliar with the score to make sense of the work as it unfolded. It was a fitting tribute to a fine musician who for many years led the Fitzwilliam Quartet and was closely associated with LDSM. Following this performance, it is good to know that another of Sir John’s works will be heard later in the festival.

Soprano soloist, Ailish Tynan, thrilled the audience in Mozart’s Plasmator Deus for soprano, bassoon and orchestra and the same composer’s well-known Exultate jubilate. Her flawless technique and vocal control was impressive.

The orchestra concluded the concert with Mozart’s youthful Symphony No 29 in A, written when the composer was only 18 years of age, a lovely work and a miracle of compositional achievement for one so young. Playing without a conductor is a demanding exercise but again, the orchestral playing was assured and stylish, orchestral chamber music at its best and a fine opening to the two-week festival.

Celebrating its 34th year, the prestigious musical gathering runs until August 10