AS THE 2019 Lake District Summer Music festival drew to a close, The Marian Consort made a welcome return to the festival in a morning concert, followed by the Berkeley Ensemble in the evening, both in the lovely setting of Ambleside Parish Church.

The Marian Consort’s programme took as its theme Singing in Secret, drawing on the rich corpus of music by William Byrd and his Catholic contemporaries from the Elizabeth period, a time when Mass could not be openly celebrated and Catholic composers were regarded as recusants.

At the centre of the programme was Byrd’s deeply felt and expressive four-part Mass; motets from Byrd’s Gradualia collection and those of his contemporaries were interpolated between movements.

The performance level of this group can only be described as superb: the interweaving of the contrapuntal lines, blend, intonation, ensemble and consideration of the text all highlighted the proficiency of this group, directed from within by the countertenor Rory McCleery.

Rory’s informative and erudite programme notes and brief introductions to the music helped to convey to the audience the significance of this deeply felt music in an age of repression for Catholic composers. What a privilege it was to hear this wonderful music performed with such excellence in the heart of the Lakes.

A very different concert took place in the evening when the Berkeley Ensemble brought the festival to a close with an interesting and varied programme of music for strings, woodwind and piano, concluding with a lovely performance of Schubert’s well-known ‘Trout’ Quintet. Before this came works by Prokofiev, Poulenc, Martinu, Strauss/Schoenberg and John Woolrich.

The music of Prokofiev and Poulenc set the concert off on joyful note with music that proved immediately accessible, essentially melodic, full of exciting rhythms and touches of humour.

John Woolrich’s Bagatelle, written for the ensemble’s 10th birthday, was interesting for the composer’s exploration of texture and contrasting timbres. In much of the piece the strings and wind operated as two separate ensembles; the dark sound of the double bassoon in the woodwind group was particularly striking.

But, apart from the Schubert Quintet, probably everybody’s favourite and perhaps the work that sticks most in the memory is Schoenberg’s arrangement of Johan Strauss's Emperor Waltz. The two composers are at opposite ends of the compositional spectrum stylistically but Schoenberg’s instrumental colouring presented this popular piece in a delightful new light.

The interesting programme, the technical brilliance of the players and the high-quality ensemble playing - a joy to watch and refreshing to hear – made this a fitting end to the 35th LDSM. Long may it continue!

Clive Walkley