Proms at Sage Gateshead: Songs of Northern Lands

Kristina Arakelyan
Whin Lands – 1: Nightfall (BBC commission: world premiere)
Onutė Narbutaitė
Edward Elgar
My Love dwelt in a Northern Land
Josef Rheinberger
Vaclovas Augustinas
Tykus Tykus
Kristina Arakelyan
Whin Lands – 2: Round the Dancing Flames
Alfred Schnittke
Three Sacred Hymns – 1: Bogoroditse devo
Roderick Williams
Ave verum corpus Re-imagined
Dobrinka Tabakova
Of the Sun Born
Martin L. Gore (arr. Eric Whitacre)
Enjoy the Silence
Tarik O’Regan
I Listen to the Stillness of You
Max Reger
Der Mensch lebt und bestehet nur eine kleine Zeit
Richard Wagner (arr. Gottwald)
Wesendonck Lieder – No. 5: Träume
Laura Mvula
Sing to the Moon
Hubert Parry
Songs of Farewell: No. 4. There Is an Old Belief
Radiohead, (arr. Torkel Rönnblad)
Exit Music (for a Film)
Kristina Arakelyan
Whin Lands – 3: Daybreak

Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia
Massed Voices of the North East
Voices of the River’s Edge

Timothy Burke
Grace Rossiter

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 22 July, 2023
Venue: Sage Gateshead, Sage One

This late-night choral concert at Sage Gateshead for the BBC Proms proved to be an enchanting and diverse musical journey, stylishly led by Timothy Burke and Grace Rossiter, who alternated the conducting duties with seamless precision. The performance featured an expansive chorus, skilfully woven together with singers from the Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia, Massed Voices of the Northeast, and the youthful Voices of the River’s Edge.

Embracing a rich tapestry of musical styles, tonight’s late-night Prom showcased an eclectic programme of bite-sized pieces, spanning from 19th-century choral classics to contemporary compositions. The centrepiece of the evening was the premiere of Kristina Arakelyan’s “Whin Lands,” a BBC commission that artfully traversed the course of a night, beautifully setting the poetic words of Katrina Porteous. Scored for three antiphonal choirs and sung tonight in three parts of the concert (beginning, middle and end) the piece exquisitely captures the essence of twilight at Hadrian’s Wall, the memory of dancing flames, and the hope-filled daybreak over Lindisfarne – a captivating and emotional piece.

Throughout the evening, the choirs explored a diverse range of compositions. Onute Narbutaite’s 1991 piece “Vasara” use of intriguing vocal effects, were magnified by the clever use of spatial positioning within the choir. Edward Elgar’s “My love dwelt in a Northern land,” dating back to 1889, delivered simple yet poignant chordal progressions – a sub-choir adding a touch of intimacy.

Venturing further north into the Baltic countries, Vaclovas Augustinas’s “Tykus Tykus” from 2010 featured an innovative use of vocal ‘tic’ sounds, cleverly evoking the sound of a horse as its rider, our heroic ‘young lad’ sets off to battle, leaving behind a heartbroken maiden.

A true highlight of the evening was Roderick Williams’s “Ave Verum Corpus Re-imagined” from 2016, which, as a tribute to Byrd’s work of the same name, seamlessly bridged the gap between the modern era and 17th-century England. The resonant harmonies created an unforgettable connection with the Tudor composer, commemorating his 400th anniversary.

Additional standout moments included Eric Whitacre’s smart arrangement of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” – the original from 1989, and Clytus Gottwald’s poignant choral arrangement of Träume taken from Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, and a touching homage to Gottwald, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

With an uninterrupted performance of over an hour and a quarter, the endurance and meticulous attention to detail displayed by the three choirs were commendable, making this a most enjoyable evening.

2 thoughts on “Proms at Sage Gateshead: Songs of Northern Lands”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this experience. It was an utter joy from the first rehearsal in May to the performance. Thank you to all those who made it possible.

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