Isle of Ely Arts Festival and Ely Gin Company Review


It’s a night of fervour for Eboracum Baroque, hot from a day spent with Ely College, introducing their young audiences to baroque instruments and instilling in them a love for music that will stay with them well after the day is over.

In a joint, and quite unique, venture with the Isle of Ely Arts Festival and the Ely Gin Company the evening’s audience has been treated to some of the Baroque era’s best-loved tunes, safe in the hands of Handel and Vivaldi, and the pure magic that comes from period instruments that fill the church with glory.

It’s a resonant and rich repertoire from the members of Eboracum Baroque, a versatile and bonded group of young professional instrumentalists and singers at the early stages of their professional careers. That means we’re seeing them at their youthful best, playing with zest and vigour and a love for the music they offer us.

Several of the Water Music’s suites are interspersed with arias from operas and oratorios including Judas Maccabaeus and Acis and Galatea, dating from a time when Italian opera reigned supreme but was given a cold shoulder by London audiences who didn’t understand the words. It was all a little … highbrow. So Handel, egged on by his friend George II, offered a libretto in English, often matched with stories from the bible. That was more to the taste of the audiences and they lapped it up.

Just as this audience did this evening. Violinists Alice Earll and Ada Witczyk, Viola player Heather Bourne and cellist Camilla Morse-Glover arced and bowed as if they were joined at the hip.

And if ever we needed to know how underrated and immense was the tiny descant recorder, beloved of school children and their teachers well before the Beatles used it to such great effect in Fool on the Hill, then Miriam Nerval’s playing was everything: saucy, speedy, violent and charming. Virtuoso playing at close to a hundred miles an hour. During the interval we heard the results of Chris Parsons’ superb work with the talented musicians of Ely College over gin and cake.

Such a romantic and welcome evening, the sort of event that can make Ely sing, and a fitting tribute not just to Eboracum Baroque and the fine future that lays ahead of them but to the Isle of Ely Arts Festival and the Ely Gin Company, who can recognise a good thing when they see it.