Purcell Pageant - Solomon’s Knot - Laeiszhalle, Hamburg

I especially missed Germany during lockdown, not just because of the cancelled festivals I had been looking forward to in Göttingen (Handel), Halle (Handel) and Bonn (Beethoven), but because I just love spending time in Germany. It was with great pleasure that Solomon's Knot could visit Hamburg for a concert at the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg on Monday 26th October 2020, returning to a programme established for performances in Cambridge and Scarborough last year. The programme had been curtailed to an hour to meet Coronavirus regulations, and would be performed twice in the same evening with time for the cleaning and ventilation of the hall between.

Speaking of regulations, on the eve before we travelled to Germany the regulations changed and we would be required to take a Covid-19 test. The test was administered by an efficient and charismatic medical professional at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, and the results arrived just about an hour after the last sample was taken. Thankfully all of us tested negative. There was a gargantuan effort from all concerned to ensure that the project actually happened, and that it could happen safely; we are all immensely grateful to them. After the results were returned there was a palpable sense of relief that none of us would have to quarantine away from home.

The Laeiszhalle is a fantastic hall. I have previously had the pleasure of performing Handel's Joshua with the Göttingen Handel Festival Orchestra in 2014 and a Purcell programme with the Gabrieli Consort in 2018 - and it was Purcell, again, that would be the focus of Solomon's Knot's 'Purcell Pageant' programme on this occasion.

It was also wonderful to spend more time than on previous visits walking around Hamburg. Due to the virus, I wasn't enamoured by the idea of using public transport often, and actually everywhere we needed to go was easily walkable. My iPhone pedometer reached 24,000 steps on Sunday on account of the walks between the hotel (Ruby Lotti), rehearsal venue (Mozartsäle), dinner venue (Hofbräu Hamburg), main square and town, and some way along the north bank of the river Norderelbe.

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The Purcell Pageant had so many highlights worthy of mention including a memorable 'Strike the Viol' by alto Kate Simmonds-Joy, a brilliant 'Hark the Echoing Air' by soprano Clare Lloyd-Griffiths, memorable moments from tenor Andrew Tortise and a chilling 'Winter' by Alex Ashworth to name but a few, but once again the vocal ensemble took the honours with their scintillating and apt (and also memorised) encore of Telemann's 'Mitten wir im Leben sind mit dem Tod umfangen' (In the midst of life we are in death) composed in Hamburg in 1762. The orchestra also sparkled in the final piece (before the encore) with the ever-joyful Chaconne from King Arthur, with bows of unbridled delight in the string section (led by Kinga Ujszaszi).

It was fantastic to hear applause again and witness two consecutive standing ovations in this beautiful hall. The NDR's microphones captured the programme and the concert will be broadcast shortly before Christmas.

We returned back to London Heathrow Airport, and the so-called 'travel corridor' from Germany to England remained in place during our visit, meaning that no quarantine upon return was required on account of Germany's comparatively low infection rate.

Just a few days after our return, a cultural lockdown in Germany was pronounced meaning that concert halls will close in many, if not all, parts of the country. It made our trip feel all-the-more miraculous, and we were all thankful that this musically-fulfilling project happened safely in these unsettling times.

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.