Friday 16 May 2014

War and Peace - The Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars - credit Edic Richmond
The Tallis Scholars - credit Edic Richmond
War and Peace; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 14 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Music inspired by war and by peace from the 16th and 21st centuries

For their second appearance at the Cadogan Hall as part of Choral at Cadogan on 14 May 2014, The Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips presented a programme called War and Peace. The concert was structured as a mass with a mass setting interleaved with motets and other music, but instead of performing a single mass Peter Phillips had assembled different movements of masses by Josquin, Guerrero, Victoria and Palestrina. War was represented by movements from Josquin's Missa L'Homme Arme, Guerrero's Missa L'Homme Arme and Guerrero's Missa de la Battalla Escoutez, with peace of a sort coming from Victoria's Missa Pro Defunctis and Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli. Threading their way through this were works by Mouton, Lobo and John Taverner each written in memory of a friend of patron, plus Arvo Part pre-figuring Christ's death.

The group started with a short but stirring verse from the monody, L'Homme Arme on which both Josquin and Guerrero based their masses. The Kyrie from Josquin's Missa L'Homme Arme was a remarkably calm and slow moving work. Josquin's treatment of the music was remarkably artful, but the result sounded admirably logical and natural in a relaxed and flowing performance. Francisco Guerrero's Missa de la Batalla Escoutez is based on Clement Janequin's La Guerre (written to commemorate the French victory over the Swiss at Marignan in 1515). The Gloria was a lively movement with some lovely rhythmic felicities. The slower middle section had a flowing texture for just three upper voices.

With Arvo Part's The Woman with the Alabaster Box we moved to the present day with Part's setting of a text in which Jesus contemplates his own death and burial. Part's close-textured homophonic writing was finely placed by the singers as they displayed both control and intensity.

Jean Mouton's Quis dabit oculis was written for the death of his patronness, Anne of Brittany (Wife of Louis XII of France). Using just lower voices (alto, tenor and bass) the work was an austere piece, sombre and grave yet profoundly moving. Alfonso Lobo's Versa est in luctum was written for the death of his patron King Philip II of Spain in 1598. A rich textured piece, given a finely controlled performance with a lovely slow build as it progressed to the radiant conclusion.

The Credo from Guerrero's Missa Batalla was a rather declamatory piece, with a steady beat to it and a matching steady progression through the words, only pausing at the Incarnatus. The ensemble's attention to the lively rhythms and rhythmic interplay prevented monotony.

The second half opened with the Requiem in Aeternam from Victoria's Missa pro Defunctis. The slowly unfolding rich six-part texture was set off by finely shaped phrases and the slightly cool sensibiity which the ensemble brought to the work. The Sanctus was from Guerrero's Missa L'Homme Arme (base not only on the ubiquitous tune, but also on a mass by Morales). Sung by upper voices, it had a lovely feeling of continuous development, with transparent textures. And there was an austerely beautiful three-part Benedictus.

John Taverner's Song for Athene was originally written in memory of a young woman, Athene, who was a family friend of the composer. The work's subsequent fame has not dimmed the very real magic of the piece and the Tallis Scholars gave the work just the poise, control and clarity that it needed.

The Agnus Dei from Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli has an extraordinary richness of texture, initially for six-part choir (SATTBB), Palestrina adds a second soprano part for the second Agnus Dei creating an extraordinary complex web of sound. Despite the composer's use of a triple canon, the result sounded effortless. The concert finished with an extraordinarily vibrant and passionate performance of the Libera me from Victoria's Missa pro Defunctis.

The audience reaction was very warm, and we were treated to an encore: Victoria's setting of Versa est in luctum from his Missa pro Defunctis
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