A Renaissance Christmas
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
Coro, COR16167. 67’11
The publicity blurb that came with this CD refers to it as “a perfect alternative to traditional carols”, and it certainly is. Perhaps trying to seek forgiveness for their 2015 release, The Complete Traditional Christmas Carols Collection (recorded in 1991), The Sixteen here concentrate on music from the Renaissance era. They bring their particular brand of highly professional choral singing to a well-balanced sequence of pieces from composers born between 1505 and 1580, a period when the Renaissance reached its zenith as religion in Europe reached one of its periodic nadirs. Continue reading
John Potter: Secret History
ECM New Series ECM2119
It’s been a while since the names of John Potter and ECM have been linked in an ‘early music’ recording, the last being back in Potter’s Hilliard Ensemble days. This recording was made in 2011, and was the first time this group of musicians had got together. It pre-dates their later recording Amores Pasados published in 2015. The result is a radical re-think of Renaissance music performance, not least in reducing complex polyphony to just one or two vocal lines, sung by John Potter and Anna Maria Friman, the remaining voices being played on vihuelas (an early form of guitar, tuned like a lute) by Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Haringman, and Lee Santana. In the opening eight-part Mouton Nesciens mater for example, they sing the two paired superius lines, in the form of a canon at the fifth, very occasionally switching to one of the other six voices. The three vihuelas play the remaining pairs of voices, which are all also in the same strict canonic form. An extraordinary feat of contrapuntal writing, reduced to comparative simplicity. Continue reading
In honour of the Virgin
The Cardinall’s Musick
St John’s, Smith Square. 14 December 2016
The 31st St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival features most of the usual suspects, including regulars, The Cardinall’s Musick. As is typical of their concerts, the focus was on Catholic liturgical music from the Renaissance, on this occasion in honour of the Virgin Mary. In a ‘greatest hits’ line-up of Renaissance composers, the first half was built around Lassus’s Missa Osculeter me osculo oris sui alternating with motets by Victoria; the second centered on Byrd’s Propers for the Nativity of the Virgin Mary and concluded with Palestrina’s Magnificat primi toni a 8.
I have never quite understood how the Song of Songs managed to get accepted into the Bible. However much commentators from the Jewish or Christian tradition attempt to find allegorical links in the Song of Solomon, in the latter case, with the New Testament stories, it remains so obviously an evocation of sexual love of a most explicit kind: the closest that Solomon could get to internet porn. Continue reading
O Come, Emmanuel!
Ensemble Plus Ultra
St John’s, Smith Sq. 17 December 2015
Victoria: Missa Ave Regina caelorum; Byrd: Lady Mass Advent Propers; Hieronymus Praetorius: Magnificat quinti toni, and pieces by Morales, Michael Praetorius etc.
As part of the 30th annual St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival, Ensemble Plus Ultra contributed a programme of Advent and Christmas music from Spain, England, and Germany. The rather curious opening had three female singers on stage, while five men approached down the two side aisles, deconstructing the Advent chant Veni, veni Emmanuel by passing it between all three groups. The rest of the first half was a very effective interspersing of Victoria’s 1600 Missa Ave Regina caelorum with Byrd’s 1607 five-part Propers for Lady Mass during Advent. This was preceded by Victoria’s 1581 double choir setting of the Missa Ave Regina caelorum antiphon, upon which the parody mass was based. Although the Continue reading
Tenebrae by Candlelight
Chapelle du Roi – Alistair Dixon director
St John’s, Smith Square, 1 April 2015
Palestrina: Lamentations, Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responds, Victoria: O Domine Jesu, Mass: Ave Regina, Ave Regina Coelorum, de Monte: Super Flumina Babylonis, Tallis: Lamintations I&II, In Jejunio et Fletu, Derelinquit Impius, Byrd: Emendemus in Melius, Guerrero: O Domine Jesu.
The regular pre-Christmas and pre-Easter concerts in St John’s, Smith Square given by the vocal group Chapelle du Roi continued with one of their best yet as they celebrated ‘Tenebrae by Candlelight’. ‘Celebrated’ is a loose term, as this was not a liturgical reconstruction, but a reflection on the music for Holy Week generally intended for use during the Tenebrae service. The monastic service of Tenebrae was a combination of the office of Matins, normally sung just before sunrise, and the sunrise service Continue reading
The Psalms of David are a key part of the liturgy of Christian and Jewish worship, and were rather nicely described by the (un-named) programme note writer of The Cardinall’s Musick concert (Cadogan Hall, 5 Feb) as a “collection of praises and complaints, benedictions and moans … dealing with the problems of ordinary life”. Their programme looked at two of the many possible musical genres, comparing the European Catholic tradition of the 16th century with that of the English church of the same period, described by director Andrew Carwood as a collection of “sorbets and grand dishes”.
The 10 singers were used in many different formations, only coming together at the end of each half, firstly for the Allegri Miserere and then Byrd’s joyful Laudibus in sanctis. After the opening Jubilate Deo by Giovanni Gabrieli, the first half was built around three of Victoria’s large-scale double-choir Vespers Psalm settings, Nisi Dominus, Dixit Dominus and Laudate Dominum. These were contrasted with more intimate settings, notably Palestrina’s Super flumina Babylonis, with its closely-wrought stepwise musical lines, and the Ad Dominum cum tribularer by Lassus with its contrast between high and low voices. The often intense English settings were intended for a very different liturgical purpose, usually as anthems during Evensong or Mattins, or for more private devotions. Only with the opening Gibbons’ ‘O clap your hands together’ and the final Byrd Laudibus in sanctis did the English music approach the grandeur of Victoria’s settings. Indeed, it was the intimate and madrigal-like ‘O Lord in thy wrath’ and Laboravi in gemitu meo (by Gibbons and Weelkes respectively) that were the emotional highlights for me.
The rather youthful photographs of Andrew Carwood and Cardinall’s Musick belied the fact that they are in their 25th year. They were on excellent form on this occasion, their forthright vocal style ideal for the large-scale works as well as seeking out the emotional intensity of the more intimate works.