The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage 2013

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The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage 2013

A personal reflection on The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage 2013:

Thank our forbears that in this secular age we still have enough cathedrals for the Sixteen to perform in. Cathedrals were built for The Sixeen to perform in. That is what it felt like again last night listening to their glorious sound. Raise high the roof beam carpenters, said Salinger. The Sixteen did exactly that.

This year’s choral pilgrimage The Queen of Heaven focuses on Palestrina, Allegri and contemporary composer James McMillan.  

For an opener, the male singers walked slowly down the central aisle exchanging antiphons with the women’s upper voices in the plainsong Regina caeli  laetare. Then followed Palestrina’s five-voice Kyrie to open the programme and Agnus Dei to close it from his mass based on the plainsong. Inbetween we had more Palestrina in the form of motets and the Stabat Mater a 8, four works by James McMillan and Allegri’s Miserere.

What struck me generally about the Palestrina works was the use of choirs antiphonally, so the opening was a good pointer to what to listen out for. Not being an expert on early music, I’ll quote from the programme; ’Typically for Palestrina, when writing for eight or more voices, the prima pars has long sections for each of the two choirs on their won, and the secunda pars only becomes true double-choir music in the later bars’. (A point of difference says the writer with the style of Victoria, where full 8 voiced writing is more the norm). This note was with reference to Regina caeli laetare a 8 which opened the second half, but also markedly noticeable in the Stabat Mater for eight voices also which had closed the first half.

The MacMillan was a revelation for me, not being familiar beforehand with his choral oeuvre. Dominus dabit benignitatem, a short Communion motet, had repetitive chords in the lower voices,  and his use of repetition in O Radiant Dawn was thrilling - the six statements of ‘Come, come…’ In Videns Dominus his use of trills almost (written out trills as I checked with one of the choir whom kindly let me see the score) is something else, and quite an original sounding fingerprint. The ‘biggie’ of the evening was MacMillan’s setting of the Miserere, dedicated to Harry Christophers, which bows to Allegri (says the composer; ‘I have nodded towards Allegri’s masterful setting by referencing the psalm chant found in his setting. However, my version of the chant is harmonised, once in a relatively traditional manner, and tehn later, ethereally and with floating drones. The opening melody, based upon a minor mode, eventually recurs at the every end in its major, with a sense of resignation and hope’.

Without going into all the detail, the version of Allegri’s Miserere is a new version based upon Ben Byram-Wigfield’s research, whose scholarly article on the history of the work is included in the programme. As my wife says, this piece of music is liquid gold for the soul. I can’t say better overall than the fact that, as usual, The Sixteen and their conductor were stunning to my ears.

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

RE: The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage 2013

A very thorough and well-written piece, partsong. Makes me wish I was there. Sounds like your wife is very right in her statement about liquid gold for the soul - well-said, too!

 

ETA Whoops, I'm not sure what happened to my signature... I've tried to erase it but obviously haven't had any succes.

'Classical music has been based on works people love and come back to for aural comfort.'
Leila Josefowicz

RE: The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage 2013

Many thanks Bennet for your kind comments. I thought after the concert, I'll write a review, but then thought I'll just call it a personal reflection, since I can't compete with professional reviewers!

Mark - it was a really good concert.

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

RE: The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage 2013

Mark,

A beautiful description of what must have been an uplifting experience.

You have reminded me, forcefully, that it is high time I got to know the music of MacMillan. Your descriptions make a most tantalising case for no further procrastination on my part.

As you say, the distinction in style beteen Palestrina and Victoria in their double-choir settings is very noticeable. And how well Renaissance polyphony can sound in many English cathedrals.  I must add though that my own experience has been mixed. Sometimes, e.g. in St.Paul's and in Westminster Abbey, unless you are lucky enough to be sitting in the 'sweet spot', much of the music can be lost in a wash of echo. On the other hand, hearing Westminster Cathedral Choir in the Cathedral has always been an inspiriting experience for me, as well as hearing Messiaen on the massive organ! 

Great stuff, Mark!

Chris

 

Chris A.Gnostic

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