Gabrieli Consort: A Rose Magnificat

A Rose Magnificat
The Gabrieli Consort, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square. 8 June 2017

Leighton Of a Rose  /  Tallis Videte Miraculum á 6
Warlock As dew in Aprylle  /  White Magnificat á 6
Macmillan  /  Sheppard  /  Park Ave maris stella
Wylkynson Salve Regina á 9  /  Howells Salve Regina
Lane There is no rose  /  Matthew Martin Rose Magnificat (world premiere)

This fascinating concert collected together a seemingly random selection of pieces from old to very new, all dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Grouping the pieces in twos or three enhanced the experience of contrast, starting with the pairing of Kenneth Leighton’s setting of the 15th century text Of a Rose with Tallis’s magnificent 6-part Videte Miraculum. Soprano Ruth Provost was the soloist in the Leighton, weaving the refrain Of a Rose around and through the rhythmically homophonic choir texture. The contrasting tight-knit and multi-stranded polyphony of Tallis, with his distinctive ‘false relations’ provided a perfect contrast. This pair was followed by the slithering close harmonies of Warlock’s short and rhythmically complex double choir As dew in Aprylle, contrasted with White flamboyant and expansive six-plus part Magnificat, the continuous inner movement and long melismas of the latter giving the piece a timeless quality.

There followed an Ave maris stella triptych by James Macmillan, John Sheppard, and Owain Park, the first and last of these linked by the use of high long-held notes around which the harmony moves, descending like an aural curtain in Macmillan and a step-wise chant-like melody in Park. Sheppard’s central alternatim setting built upwards from the bass, assisted by a very low chant.  A pair of Salve Reginas followed, comparing Wylkynson massive nine-voice Eton Choirbook setting (with its two and three voice textures set against a wall of melismatic sound) with Howells’ Renaissance-inspired Salve Regina, the latter concluding with soprano Ruth Provost’s voice floating above the choir.

The final pairing started with something of a palate-cleanser with Jonathan Lanes’ simple There is no Rose before the high-point of the evening, the world premiere of Matthew Martin’s Rose Magnificat (commissioned by the Gabrieli Consort), a large-scale and complex double choir setting with a kaleidoscope of texture and colour. Combining the medieval There is no Rose within a Magnificat setting, the former slowly begins to overtake the latter text, reaching a powerful climax as the Alleluia of the carol combines with the Gloria of the Magnificat. Bringing together all 26 of the Gabrieli singers for the first time that evening, this was a powerful conclusion to well-conceived concert programme. The Gabrieli singers excelled in a difficult programme. Although Paul McCreesh claims not to aim for a ‘consort sound’, that is exactly what was evident on this occasion, the blend and stability of the voices, whether combined or in smaller forces,

Run straight through without an interval, I did wonder if this would have been better programmed with the Matthew Martin world premiere at the end of a first half, and then repeated at the end. New commissions take an enormous amount of energy and time to prepare (and, in this case, to rehearse) so it is a shame when they only get one hearing.

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