Friday 2 September 2005

Last Night's Prom

We went to the Late Night Prom last night; the Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers in a programme of music by Robert Wylkynson, William Cornysh and Thomas Tallis. The attraction, for me, was that they were opening the concert with Wylkynson's amazing 13-part canon,Jesus autem transiens/Credo in unum deum. Few of Wylkynson's works survive but some do in the Eton Choir Book, which is were the music for the canon comes from. Wylkynson was keen on numerical symbolism, his Salve Regina setting is for 9 voices, each part labelled with the name of one of the 9 ranks of angels (Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Powers, Seraphim, Cherubim, + 1 more). For the creed, the 13 part canon represents Christ and the 12 Apostles. It is written for just 13 men and is rather taxing; the vocal line is rather high in places for the basses and rather low in places for the tenors. I have sung in it twice, with London Concord Singers, and it was interesting to hear the men of the Sixteen having similar problems as we did, though being professionals they disguised it far better than we. The result was stunning, particularly the middle section when all of the 13 parts are going; wonderful chaos really.

The concert finished with a performance of Tallis's Spem in Alium so Harry Christophers had quite a large choir to play with and play with it he did. Rather than thinning it down for the other items, he used quite a large group and selected voices from it for the different sections of the pieces. So that in Cornysh's Salve Regina we had small scale semi-chorus sections contrasted with large scale pieces. This approach worked wonderfully in the echoing spaces of the Albert Hall. Where it became a little annoying was in the performance of Tallis's 9 Psalm Tunes from Archbishop Parker's metrical Psalter; the most famous of which was the tune used by Vaughan Williams for his Tallis Fantasia. For the Psalm Tunes, all short pieces, Christophers had the members of the choir constantly on the move into different groups, for no apparent reason.

Still, all was redeemed by a sublime performance of Tallis's Gaude Gloriosa, but the reason why the hall was so very full was the final item in the programme, Spem in Alium. Interestingly, the performance included at least 1 singer who sang at Edington last Saturday (the choir also included 2, if not 3 pregnant women). Whereas Jeremy Summerly at Edington used 1 soprano, 1 alto (male or female) with male voices on the lower parts in each choir, Christophers uses 2 sopranos, 1 alto (male), 1 tenor, 1 bass; I think they sang the piece in a higher key I think, though nothing was said in the programme. They also used 2 chamber organs for continuo (which is probably authentic). The performance seemed lighter, swifter (and higher) than at Edington. Lovely, but not as moving but then Edington was a far smaller venue. Christophers and his group seemed to be moving their interpretation more in the direction of the Clerkes of Oxenford and their astonishing performances.

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