King’s College Minimalism at Kings Place

Included within the year-long Kings Place ‘Minimalism Unwrapped’ festival, Stephen Cleobury and the Choir of King’s College Cambridge devised a programme based around plainchant (4 Feb).  They combined this with their own celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the completion of their Chapel and reflections on the College’s (and their sister foundation of Eton College) founder Henry VI and their patron, the Virgin Mary.  The result was a complete Sarum Rite plainsong Vespers In Nativitate Beatae Maria Virginis (including Dunstable’s Ave Maria Stella and Magnificat secundi toni) and a recreated Mass sequence De Beatae Maria Virginis, incorporating music from the Old Hall Manuscript by Damett, Bittering, Power and ‘Roy Henry’.  Each half ended with a piece from the Eton Choir Book.  The Vespers was enclosed within Robert Parsons’ Ave Maria and the Old Hall Salve Regina by Robert Hacomplaynt, the interestingly surnamed Provost of Kings from 1509-28.  The more elaborate flowing melismas of the Vesper antiphons provided contrast to the simpler melodic lines of the  Psalms.  Despite any possible arguments of authenticity, I do find the habit of over-lengthening the silence in the middle of a chant verse, and then almost overlapping the end of one verse with the start of the next, rather curious.  The 16 choral scholars (nearly all undergraduates, judging by their academic gowns) were joined by 17 boy choristers for the large-scale pieces that opened and closed each half.   Although it was a slightly curious notion to include music of this period in a festival of minimalism – and, of course, it would have sounded very different if the King’s College Choir had been singing on home turf – this was a fascinating and musically compelling insight into musical and liturgical history.  It was also a fine example of the outstanding music making that goes on day by day in our cathedrals and college foundations.

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