Tuesday 19 June 2012

Edington Festival

Edington Music Festival 2012 season brochure
The great classics of Western Classical sacred music were written for performance within the liturgy and, no matter how sensitive a concert performance is, it remains a concert performance. There is something profoundly satisfying about hearing a Palestrina mass performed within the context of the correct religious service.

Now, I have to admit that I am something of a plainchant nut so that I can easily sit through hours of the stuff and find a fully sung Tridentine Mass a profoundly satisfying musical experience. Not everyone does, of course. And in my own programmes I have to take care to limit the amount of chant. And fully sung Latin masses are very much a Roman Catholic tradition, in the Anglican church a different musical tradition has developed which mixes the sung elements with a largely spoken service.

The Edington Festival offers an ideal view of this, music from 1000 years of Western classical tradition performed by three superb choirs in the context of the Anglican liturgy. The Priory Church at Edington is a glorious medieval church and the services themselves are richly evocative. You also usual get some damn good preaching. This year the three choirs are directed by Benjamin Nichols (all male Schola Cantorum), Matthew Martin (Nave choir of men and boys) and Jeremy Summerly (mixed voice consort). The festival programme, put together by festival director Ashley Grote, celebrates the church's year and runs from 19 - 26 August.

This year, also, the contract has been signed for a new Harrison and Harrison organ for the Priory Church to replace the rather ailing instrument there at present (which is also, rather unhelpfully, pitched at high pitch). The new instrument will service the needs of both the festival and the parish and has been the subject of a huge fund-raising campaign.

This year's musical programme offers a fine complement of riches ranging from Praetorius through to the latest festival commission from Edward Rex. There are two Palestrina masses (Missa nasce las gioia mia and Dum complerentur) along with Byrd's Five-part mass, Hassler's Dixit Maria (which is a great favourite at St. Mary's Cadogan Street where I sing) and Padilla's Missa Ego flos campi. The service which includes the Padilla also includes music by Taverner and his modern namesake, a rather neat complement. Moving forward, the 19th century English tradition is represented by Stanford and Stainer along with more recent names such as Howells, Naylor and Holst. More unusual names crop up such as Patrick Gowers (Viri Galilei) and continental tradition is represented by such composers as Poulenc (Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence) and Dupre (Une feme pieuse essuie la face de Jesus).  More recent names include Britten, Kenneth Leighton (Collegium Magdalenae Oxoniense), Matthew Martin, John Gardner, Pawel Lukaszewski, Giles Swayne, Philip Moore and Jonathan Dove (Missa Brevis). 

I'm sure I've missed something, but the programme can be browsed on the Edington Festival website. But I think my highlight must be the performance of Allegri's Miserere on Thursday evening, 23 August.

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