The Sixteen at Christmas
Harry Christophers, Frances Kelly (harp)
The Anvil, Basingstoke, 4 December 2019
As their 40th anniversary year draws to a close, The Sixteen’s seasonal tour of their ‘Sixteen at Christmas‘ programme stopped by at Basingstoke’s Anvil concert hall for a varied selection of music for Advent and Christmas. Their focus was on traditional medieval and 20th and 21st-century composers, most of the latter influenced by former. Until the Ding dong encore, it avoided all the usual carols of childhood memory. The key piece was the concluding Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, a sequence of pieces based on medieval texts that he started writing during a 1942 Atlantic crossing. Continue reading
The Sixteen Choir & Orchestra, Harry Christophers
The Grange Festival
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 28 June 2019
I think that few opera-goers would argue that Handel oratorios should not be staged as operas, despite the risk of letting opera directors loose on them. They are generally full of operatic images and action and usually lack the textural and plot bafflement and cross-dressing of many of Handel’s proper operas, although their Biblical stories come with their own element of bafflement. Their English language text can be rather clunky, as it certainly is in Belshazzar, but the momentum of the music and the large role for a choir makes them a particularly effective musical and theatrical show.
Following on from their recent partnership with the Academy of Ancient Music for Figaro The Grange Festival partnered with the choir and orchestra of The Sixteen (celebrating their 40th birthday) for a fully staged version of Handel’s Belshazzar. the story is taken from the Book of Daniel, and recounts the fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus the Great and the freeing of the Jewish nation from captivity. Directed by Daniel Slater with Robert Innes Hopkins as the designer, the setting, staging and direction was, with a few exceptions, excellent. A wall of Pink Floyd proportions was initially spread across the stage front, with the tip of a Breughelesque Tower of Babel peeking above the ramparts. Said tower swivelled through 180 degrees to reveal the internal settings. Continue reading
Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook Legacy
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
CORO. COR16166. 66’37
You need to read the title of this recording carefully – The Eton Choirbook Legacy, the key word being ‘Legacy’. Alongside pieces by Walter Lambe, William Cornysh and Robert Wylkynson from the famous c1500 Eton College Choirbook are compositions by five contemporary composers, commissioned by the Sixteen’s Genesis Foundation to contrast with and compliment the Eton pieces. Four are direct responses to Eton Choirbook pieces, the fifth is Stephen Hough’s four-movement Hallowed, composed for the British Museum’s recent ‘Living with Gods’ exhibition. Continue reading
Francesco Durante: Requiem in C minor, Organ Concerto in B flat
Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Soloists from The Sixteen, Oxford Baroque
Stephen Darlington, Clive Driskill-Smith
Coro COR16147. 63’27
Durante: Requiem in C, Organ Concerto in B flat.
Better known as a teacher (of the likes of Pergolasi, Jommelli, and Piccini), the compositions of Francesco Durante (1684-1755) have been rather overlooked since his death. Born near Naples, he studied with A. Scarlatti and (possibly) Pasquini and spent a brief time in Rome before returning to Naples where he became musical director of a number of conservatories; by that time extending their original 16th century remit from the care of orphans to include specialist teaching for paying music students. Although some commentators complimented Durante on his compositions, they tended to focus on his “correct writing” and his facility with harmony and counterpoint, factors which go to make this Requiem so fascinating.
The Requiem in C minor is thought to have been first performed in S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli in Rome in 1746, although there is some doubt Continue reading
Flight of Angels
The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage 2015
Music by Francisco Guerrero & Alonso Lobo
Concert – Winchester Cathedral. 4 Sept 2015.
CD – Coro COR16128. 63’52
Guerrero: Duo seraphim clamabant, Gloria (Missa Surge propera), Laudate Dominum, Maria Magdalene, Credo (Missa de la batalla escoutez), Vexilla Regis, Agnus Dei (Missa Congratulamini mihi);
Lobo: Kyrie (Missa Maria Magdalene), Libera me, Ave Regina coelorum, Ave Maria, Versa est in luctum.
After a summer break, The Sixteen started the autumn leg of their 15th annual Choral Pilgrimage in spectacular style in the splendid surroundings of Winchester Cathedral. This year’s programme focuses on two 16th century composers connected with Seville Cathedral: Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) and his pupil and assistant Alonso Lobo (1555-1617). Continue reading
Such is the profile and schedule of The Sixteen that I was surprised to find that their short tour of the Monteverdi Vespers was the first time they had toured with orchestra and choir together. Of their eight venues (six cathedrals, and two concert halls), I saw them in Guildford Cathedral (on 30 Jan), a pared-down Gothic building designed in the 1930s and finally opened in 1961. The acoustics are good, at least from my seat close to the performers, who were positioned in what would have been termed ‘the crossing’ (in front of the choir and chancel) if there had been proper transepts. Very professional looking TV cameras broadcast to monitors to the sell-out audience down the long nave. The sequence of movements was what has become the traditional one, as were several other aspects of the performance including, arguably, taking the sequialtera passages too fast. The (more substantial) Magnificat was sung at higher pitch. With 20 singers and 24 instrumentalists, this was an aurally powerful performance, although the tiny box organ was only occasionally audible. The use of such organs is common in the UK although I urge you to try and hear the Vespers (and any Bach cantatas, for that matter) performed with a church organ (for example, see my review of the Cantar Lontano recording in the October 2014 Early Music Review). The rest of the continuo group was cello, violone, chitarrone, harp and dulcian, with string/recorders and cornett/sackbuts divided left and right. The vocal soloists, all stepping forward from the choir, were sopranos Grace Davidson and Charlotte Mobbs, tenors Mark Dobell and Jeremy Budd and basses Ben Davies and Eamonn Dougan – all most impressive. Relatively limited use was made of the available space, the main exception being the tenor/theorbo duet Nigra Sum which was performed from halfway down the central aisle, and Jeremy Budd singing Audi coelum from the pulpit. The echo passages were sung from somewhere towards the altar. As with their other cathedral venues, the singers in the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria were the local cathedral choristers, in this case Guildford’s very able girls choir.