Saturday 8 December 2012

New Lamps for Old - Chapelle du Roi

Last night, 7 December, Chapelle du Roi and Alistair Dixon performed their New Lamps for Old programme at St. John's Smith Square. The programme paired renaissance music with contemporary settings of the same texts with music by Tallis, Guerrero, Palestrina, Sheppard, Victoria and Daniel Burgess, Nicholas O'Neil, David Braid, Anthony Mudge Antony Pitts, Roxanna Panufnik and myself, Robert Hugill.

They opened with a sequence based on Puer natus est nobis, first the Sarum Chant then my introit, Puer natus est nobis and concluding with a fine performance of the Gloria from Tallis's Missa puer natus est nobis. Next came a pair of performances of The Coventry Carol, with an evocative account of the traditional 3-part version followed by Daniel Burgess's rather denser harmonised version, which still kept echoes of the original.

Tallis's Latin Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis are highly unusual works. In the Roman Catholic rite, the two canticles are not paired and occur at different parts of the Liturgy, it is the Anglican rite which pairs them. Tallis's setting clearly pairs the two musically and was probably produced to coincide with the Latin version of the prayer book which was produced for Elizabeth I for use in schools and colleges (where Latin was spoken). Nicholas O'Neil's Nunc Dimittis is a free-standing work, and is quietly evocative.

The first half concluded with a pair of settings of Alma Redemptoris Mater, first a vibrant account of Guerrero's setting published in 1589 and then the premiere of Braid's polyphonic setting, richly chromatic and a satisfying contrast to the Guerrero.

Anthony Mudge's O Magnum Mysterium opened the second half, a setting which was deliberately unsettled as to key, and rose to a shattering climax. It was paired with Palestrina's setting of the same text.

Antony Pitts O Holy of Holies  was not so much paired with Sheppard's Regis Tharsis was combined with it to make a new work. Pitts wrote O Holy of Holies utilising the structural scheme of a respond, where polyphony alternates with chant, but did not write the chant. Instead the work is performed in lieu of the chant in Sheppard's Regis Tharsis, so that Pitt's fascinatingly chromatic settings, at once dense and transparent, alternated with Sheppard's lively polyphony to create a very satisfying whole.

The Agnus Dei from Tallis's Missa Puer Natus est Nobis followed, and then finally another pair of Alma Redemptoris Mater settings. Victoria's double choir setting, here receiving a glorious performance, and then the premiere of Roxanna Panufnik's Alma Redemptoris Mater (dedicated to her mother, whose birthday it was that evening). Panufnik uses the traditional chant, but weaves her own magical web round it.

Chapelle du Roi numbered just 8 singers, and the group passed with impressive ease between richly vibrant performance of the renaissance music to poised accounts of the contemporary ones. All but one of the contemporary composers were present and it was interesting to meet and hear our different approaches to interacting with the past. A fascinating and enjoyable evening.

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