Sunday 16 March 2014

The Platinum Consort: The Lonely City

Scott Inglis-Kidger and the Platinum Consort
The Lonely City: the Platinum Consort, Scott Inglis-Kidger: Holy Trinity, Sloane Street
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 14 2015
Star rating: 4.0

16th century polyphony in an imaginative programme for Lent

Scott Inglis-Kidger and the Platinum Consort presented their programme The Lonely City at Holy Trinity, Sloane Street on Saturday 15 March 2014, the first of four concerts which the ensemble plans there this year. The theme of Lent and Christ's Passion ran through the items, with Victoria's Lamentations for Holy Saturday, and settings of the Stabat Mater by Josquin des Prez and John Browne alongside music by Manuel Cardoso, John Taverner, Clemens non Papa, Thomas Tallis and Orlande de Lassus.

Holy Trinity is a huge church, a glorious cathedral sized tribute to the Arts and Crafts movement but as such rather a tricky one to use for concerts when you want to create a more intimate atmosphere, particularly with a small ensemble. The Platinum Consort's solution was to re-configure the nave seating so that the audience sat in the round, on three quarters of a circle, with the singers standing inside the circle. They also experimented with different positions for the ensemble, varying from standing facing us (on the fourth quarter of the circle), to standing in a ring inside the audience circle.

The programme began with Et egressus est, a setting of text from Lamentations by Manuel Cardoso (c1566 -1650) from the Golden Age of Spanish polyphony. The ensemble sang this from the high altar, giving us a lovely sense of distance and allowing the polyphony to blossom in the acoustic. The ensemble has just eight singers (two sopranos, one mezzo-soprano, one counter-tenor, two tenors and two basses - Molly Alexander, Rosemary Galton, Rose Martin, Simon Ponsford, Benjamin Clark, Michael Solomon Williams, James Birchall, Timothy Murphy) but director Scott Inglis-Kidger encourages them to sing with relatively full voices. The sound is rich and very blended but quite vibrant. The polyphony unfolded steadily, and there seemed a concern to mould and shape phrases with a sense of legato achieving an expressive smoothness. You sense that one of Scott Inglis-Kidger's models might be the Tallis Scholars.

The consort then moved location and sang Dum transisset Sabbatum by John Tavener (1490 - 1545) standing in a circle round us. In theory this is an interesting idea, with the audience at the centre of the polyphony but in practice it meant that each audience member was rather too close to individual singers and the result was a little unbalanced; it seemed to put some strain on the singers and there was the odd infelicitous detail. This interesting aural effect would perhaps only work well with the singers placed a good distance away from the audience. The two sopranos displayed a nice flexibility in the high treble part.

For the setting of the Stabat Mater by Josquin des Prez (c1450 - 1521) the group stood in a ring in the inner circle at the centre of the audience. This meant that each singer at their back to a section of the audience and the sound was still a it unbalanced. Josquin's Stabat Mater had an interesting continuous texture with a slow progression of words and harmony unfolding. Vocal lines were expressively smooth in a very English style with an emphasis on balance and beauty of line. But there was also a degree of tension in the performance, as was true of all the items performed in the round, suggesting perhaps that the singers could not always hear each other as well as might be expected.

For the Lamentations for Holy Saturday by Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548 - 1611), the ensemble reverted to normal concert formation facing the audience. This brought a striking change to the sound, with the vocal quality gaining in focus and balance. The Platinum Consort is not frightened of singing out and their performance of the Lamentations was notable for some of the superbly vibrant climaxes. The music always remained poised but was passionate nonetheless, with some lovely delicate moments in contrast. Whilst you would not mistake the group for anything other than English singers, their performance was anything but milk and water.

The first half ended with Clemens non Papa's Fremuit spiritu Jesus, with the choir again in ring formation. The work is quite a busy, multi-textured piece with a lovely rich sound. I am not convinced that the audience got the best of the sound with the consort in a ring, and the choir's performance was not as relaxed as it could have been.

After the interval the five men of the group performed Tallis's In jejunio et fletu (again in the round). A lovely richly textured performance, with the the key making it go low in the bass parts. In many ways it was also a quite gentle performance. The men were then joined by the women (still in the round) for In monte Oliveti by Orlandus Lassus (c1532 - 1594). It was a nicely considered performance with some finely textured moments. But the uneven balance from where I sat (front row facing the back of one of the basses) meant it was difficult to assess.

Thankfully Browne's Stabat Mater was given in normal concert format, with the concomittant improvement in sound quality. The Browne is a long and complex piece, the elaborate Early Tudor English polyphony being a different style to much of the rest of the programme. Here we had long melismatic sections with vowels apparently going on for pages, and the music varying between full tutti and long passages for two or three solo voices. You sensed that the work pushed the singers to their limit and that it was perhaps best not placed in a long and busy programme. Inglis-Kidger's tempo was quite a brisk one and I wondered if a more relaxed speed would have worked better in the lively acoustic of the building. That said, there were some superb moments with glorious tuttis and delicate solo moments. One very striking passage had all four lower voices singing to strong and vibrant result.

Josquin's Absalom, fili mi, performed in the round, was a more austere work, rather moving in its plainness. It was quite open textures, with a sense of unfolding lines. Finally Lassus's Tristis est anima mea, in normal concert format. A performance notable for its balance and control, though the climaxes worked up nicely at times. All in all it was the music's poise rather than intensity which came over. The audience reaction was rightly very positive and were were treated to an encore, Victoria's Jesu dulcis memoria.

I am afraid that this review has been rather more about the logistics of performance than just vocal matters. The Platinum Consort's admirable desire to experiment inevitably leads to this. I am not certain that their configuration singing in a ring at the centre of the audience was the best option and I suspect that the conductor got the best and most coherent sound.

This was an enormously ambitious programme, and Scott Inglis-Kidger and the Platinum Consort gave us some superb moments with some finely controlled singing. Their next concert at Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, is on June 7 2014 with a programme of ancient and modern music for Vespers.

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