|Scott Price and the Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School (at St John's Smith Square with Spiritato)|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 14 2017
Some thrilling moments in a programme of Venetian poly-choral music of both Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli
For Festa Veneziana! at the Temple Church on Tuesday 14 March 2017, the Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, director Scott Price, was joined by His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts, tenors Peter Davoren and Nicholas Mulroy for a programme of Venetian 17th century poly-choral music, as part of the Temple Music Foundation's concert series.
The name most associated with this period is Giovanni Gabrieli, and the programme started with Giovanni Gabrieli's 14-part In ecclessiis and concluded with his 15-part Jubilate Deo. But the great virtue of Scott Price's programme was that we also heard music by Giovanni Gabrieli's uncle, Andrea Gabrieli including the spectacular 16-part Gloria along with lesser known Venetian composers Giovanni Battists Grillo and Gioseffo Guami.
The Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School is an all-male choir (of boys aged 11 to 18) numbering over 50 which is the liturgical choir of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, singing during the regular Wednesday school masses as well as having frequent external engagement. The boys make what might be termed a Continental sound, with the two dozen trebles giving an admirably strong, firm and focused sound. Overall it was a robust and vibrant sound, often thrilling with a confident sense of engagement with the music.
Scott Price followed known 17th century Venetian practice in mixing instruments and voices in the poly-choral pieces, and he also used a semi-chorus of boys from the choir, so the results had a striking sense of the contrast between timbres and between groups of different sizes. In Giovanni Gabrieli's In ecclesiis the interaction between choir, a quartet of soloists (Aidan Cole, Philippe Barbaroussis, Nicholas Mulroy and Peter Davoren), the cornets and sackbuts and Iestyn Evans' organ produced some thrilling moments, and some finely subtle ones too.
But the limitations of the Temple Church became apparent. The performers had been placed at the junction between the nave and the round church, some what crammed in but situated so as to give the best possible view to the audience in the nave in what is a very tricky space. Whilst the sound did expand into the glorious space of the church, the aural image was somewhat confused and we got little sense of space between the choirs and the chori spezzati effect whereby different groups interact with each other. You felt that placing the various groups around the space would have created better sense of the music's structure, but would have provided more problematic site lines as well as giving logistical problems with the young performers.
We do not hear enough of Andrea Gabrieli's music, whilst the sequence of his Kyrie a 5, Christe a 8, Kyrie a 12 and Gloria a 16 rarely rose to the complexity of Giovanni Gabrieli's music, there as much to enjoy. The first Kyrie was sung by an excellent baritone soloist from the choir Filippo Turkheimer, who was admirably firm of tone, with four sackbuts creating a surprisingly rich texture with the five moving parts. For the Christe we had soloists and a sackbut for one choir, and cornet, sackbuts and solo treble for the other, the two groups interacting in a slow movement call and response until the richly textured ending. For the second Kyrie we had a sense of Andrea Gabrieli working with blocks of sound as choir, instruments and semi-chorus interacted. The 16 part Gloria was simply thrilling, as was probably intended, with the main choir divided into two, plus two choirs of instruments each with a tenor soloists (Nicholas Mulroy and Peter Davoren) to provide a texted line (allocation of voices and instruments during the period tended to ensure that each choir of instruments and voices had a least one line which had the full sung text).
For Giovanni Gabrieli's six-part Beata es, virgo Maria the choir was accompanied just by organ and we could greater appreciate its rather distinctive and particular sound with the not unpleasant sense of a slight rawness in the young tenors and basses. This was followed by a purely instrumental piece, Giovanni Gabrieli's vigorous double-choir Canzon Primitoni a 8. Giovanni Battista Grillo worked not at St Mark's but San Rocco in Venice. For his eight-part Ad te levavi oculos meos we had two choirs each consisting of a tenor soloists (Nicholas Mulroy and Peter Davoren) and instruments, creating something robustly thrilling (and rather loud). The choir and instrumental ensemble gave us Giovanni Gabrieli's Plaudite omins terra its 12-part texture being created from one choir of voices and two choirs mixing voices and instruments, in a vibrant performance. There were a few rough edges in the choir, but their performance really brought the music alive.
The cornets and sackbuts gave us Giovanni Battista Grillo's Canon terza a 8 with the instruments forming two choirs. This was preceded by an illuminating talk by one of the cornet players and their remarkable instruments. Nicholas Mulroy was the tenor soloists accompanied by a cornet and three sackbuts in Gioseffo Guami's remarkably In die tribulationis where the anxiety of the text was mirrored by a striking ascending chromatic figure which was passed between the various instrumental lines, creating a remarkable effect of five polyphonic chromatic lines.
Grillo's eight-part Miericordias Domini was performed by a reduced choir of 15 plus a cornet on the top line (a common procedure at the time), to striking effect though, And finally all the performers came together for Giovanni Gabrieli's 15-part Jubilate Deo. Three unequal groupings, Nicholas Mulroy, Peter Davoren and sackbuts, a semi-chrorus and sackbuts and the full choir with the cornets, creating some striking aural effects, a thrilling end to the evening.
The Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
Soloists & semi chorus: Philippe Barbaroussis, Leo Blair, Aidan Cole, Luciano Cusack, Alessio D'Andrea, Jonathan Eastmond, Karol Jozwick, James Outtrim, Joseph Outtrim, Joseph Short, Filippo Turkheimer
Scott Price (director)
Nicholas Mulroy (tenor)
Peter Davoren (tenor)
His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts (Jeremy West, Helen Roberts, Conor Hastings, Abigail Newman, Stephanie Dyer, Stephen Saunders, Mituel Tantos Sevillano, Guy Morley)
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