Monday 22 July 2013

Genesis Sixteen in concert

Genesis Sixteen, the Sixteen's young artists programme, is in it second year and the second cohort gave a lunchtime concert at St Martin's in the Fields on Saturday 20 July 2013. To a packed church the 22 young singers, conducted by Harry Christophers and by Eamonn Dougan, performed a programme which mixed Britten Five Flower Songs and Tippett's Five Spirituals from A Child of Our Time with motets by Victoria and Anerio, plus music by Weelkes, Ramsey and Tomkins sung by smaller consort groups.

The young singers must be aged between 18 and 23 when they apply for the scheme and a new group of singers is taken each year. The scheme is sponsored by the Genesis Foundation so that not only is tuition free but the singers receive a bursary to cover costs.

The programme split up the Britten and the Tippett interleaving the movements with other works through the programme in groups, starting and finishing with the Britten.

The programme started with To Daffodils and The Succession  of the Four Sweet Months from Britten's Five Flower Songs conducted by Harry Christophers. The choir sang with rich, confident, high bright sound. There was clearly a high degree of control from the young singers, but also a surprising depth of sound. Britten's textures with sung with great clarity and the words were admirably projected. In the opening of the second movement, each voice part came in with a good, well filled line.

In addition to choral singers, the young singers form into smaller consort groups which are coached by members of the Sixteen, but which perform conductorless. During the concert we heard from four of these, each comprising a different group of singers. The first group sang Weelkes O care, thou wilt despatch me. After a slightly hesitant start they performed with grave beauty, giving the piece a lovely smooth texture as well as relishing the false relations.

Eamonn Dougann then conducted the first two of Tippett's spirituals. In both the choir made a rich sound which combined well with the sharply defined rhythms of Tippett's fascinating textures. In Nobody knows the choir's rhythmic attack was very infectious and contrasted sharply with the quieter moments. This combination of lyricism and precision made me wish that we could have heard them in one of Tippett's more complex pieces, Plebs Angelica; perhaps another time!

Christophers conducted the choir in Victoria's Salve Regina a 5, which displayed all of the familiar Sixteen virtues of a full voice and well nourished line and a sense of rich textured polyphony sung with clairty, and highly expressive. There was a lovely creamy texture to the sound in the overlapping phrases of In hac lacrimarum valle. at the end of the first stanza. The whole was sung quite full voices, full of passion but with a clear sense of line. The next Flower Song followed, also conducted by Christophers. Marsh Flowers was sung with superb attach and rhythm, impressive control all round.

Another five-voiced consort sang Tomkins When David heard. A lovely ensemble, with five characterful voices, who paid great attention to the line. There were hints of uncertainty and perhaps they were too restrained, but overall this was an impressive performance.

Anerio's Stabat Mater a 12 was new to me. Eamonn Dougann conducted the choir, now split into three ensembles, two choirs on stage and a semi-chorus of four soloists in the balcony. Anerio uses the three groups in dialogue, with all three coming together occasionally in a glorious ensemble, with Anerio writing quite widely spaced lines for the ensembles. The performance was impressive both for the vibrant passion of the climaxes and for the fine control of the quieter sections.

A six-voiced consort sang Ramsey's When David heard, singing from memory and bringing out the sober nature of the setting. The passage setting O my son had a particularly lovely texture with some very clear high notes.

Dougann then conductred the final three of the Tippett Spirituals, vibrant intense performances with some strong solo contributions in each. I was particularly taken with the soprano soloists in Go down Moses whose voice soared powerfully out of the choral texture. Sung from memory, By and by was highly infectious and rhythmic, the soprano solo singing with a lovely bright line.

For all the confidence of the performances, with the singers deft handling of Tippett's complex rhythmic textures, what really stood out was that your felt that they really meant it. Their account of the final spiritual, Deep River, was particularly moving.

The final consort group, six more voices, sang the first part of Weelkes great madrigal Thule, the period of cosmography. This piece, with its busy texture, got off to a somewhat uncertain start but the brought ought the rhythms in lively fashion and there were some lovely moments.

Finally, Christophers conducted the final two Flower Songs, The Evening Primrose and Ballad of Green Broom. In the first there was great beauty and delicacy, with a lovely clear soprano line and nicely shaped choral textures. In the second Christophers pulled no punches with his speeds and the choir followed him admirably, giving a brilliant, spirited performance in which the singer were clearly enjoying themselves.

This was an impressive concert with some fine singing indeed. You could imagine the performances being done differently especially with maturer voices, but I don't think that you could have them performed better.

After the concert there was a reception at which the entertainment was provided by the Fieri Consort, eight young singers from last year's Genesis Sixteen, who treated us to fine performances of sacred and secular music by Weelkes, Finzi and Cecilia McDowall.

Genesis Sixteen are appearing at the Ryedale Festival on Monday 22 July, and will then be performing Evensong at Magdalen College, Oxford on 16 August 2013, and they will be giving a concert at Magdalen College on 18 August. Further information from The Sixteen's website.

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