Friday 28 November 2008

There's something about Mary

The Armonico Consort are a talented vocal ensemble, based in Warwick, whose range extends from 16th century polyphony to staged performances of Rossini's Barber of Seville. They made a rare London appearance on Tuesday (25th November) as part of the Choral at Cadogan series at the Cadogan Hall.

Entitled There's Something About Mary, the concert concentrated on polyphony written during the short reign of Mary Tudor, when elaborate Latinate music enjoyed a brief renaissance in England. The centre piece of the programme was Tallis's wonderful Missa Puer Natus est Nobis, with the choir performing all 3 surviving movements (Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus, Agnus Dei) interspersed with contemporary organ music by Tallis, John Bull, Antonio de Caezon and Francisco Correa de Arauxo, and polyphony from Guerrero, Lobo and Sheppard.

Tallis's mass was written for 7 part choir (AATTBaBB) but was performed transposed up by a 16 voiced ensemble which included 6 sopranos, 3 altos, 3 tenors and 4 basses. I am entirely unclear quite how the parts were allocated but the general effect seemed to be a little weak on the inner parts. The choir made a fine rich sound, but it was most definitely soprano and bass led.

Cadogan Hall is a tricky place in which to sing polyphony and the group seem to take a little time to get used to it. The acoustic is rather dry for choral music and lacks the sort of resonance which adds lustre to this music. At first, the start of each movement was a little tentative but in the end they sang with a rich sound.

In fact the piece that worked the best was Guerroro's lovely Ave virgo sanctissima - a 5 part piece with 2 soprano parts. The resulting textures were rich and luscious, with better internal balance than in the Tallis. This is not a group where individual voices are massaged into uniformity, the singers all displayed lovely voices which blended whilst retaining their individuality.

The organ interludes were performed by Charles Matthews on a little chamber organ whose tones were delightful, but sounded a trifle quiet in the Caodgan Hall.

Though they performed Lobo's Versa est in luctum, they performed Vittoria's Versa from the Requiem in memory of Richard Hickox. The closing work from the printed programme was John Sheppard's Libera nos with its astonishing dissonances, you never wanted it to end.

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