Out of the Shadows

Monday, 27 October 2014

On the Pilgrim Trail in Brighton with Resonet and the BREMF Community Chorus

BREMF Community Choir
BREMF Community Choir
in rehearsal at St Bartholomew's Church
The Pilgrim Trail - Santiago!; Resonet, BREMF Community Choir; Brighton Early Music Festival at St Bartholomew's Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 26 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Enlivening and imaginative presentation of pilgrims songs from Santiago de Compostela

One of the joys of the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) is the way that the festival combines national and international ensembles, with local performers to give the events a real local specificity. I still have happy memories of a Joglaresa concert of music for the Dancing Girls in Seville, enlivened by the participation of the BREMF Community Choir and a troupe of women who had attended a belly dancing workshop! 
Mercedes Hernandez
Mercedes Hernandez

The BREMF Community Choir was back in action (without the belly dancers) supporting the Spanish group Resonet in its programme The Pilgrim Trail - Santiago! at St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton on 26 October 2014. Resonet  - Mercedes Hernandes soprano, Paulo Gonzalez recorders, bagpipe, hurdy gurdy and shawm, Carlos Castor percussion and psaltery, Fernando Reyes citole and director - performed pilgrims' songs from the 12th century Codex Calixtinus.

The Codex Calixtinus, compiled around 1160, includes music not only for the masses for the two annual festivities of St James in Santiago de Compostela, but music for the visiting pilgrims too. It is apparent that music was played constantly in a way that is difficult to appreciate today. The pilgrims songs are written so that the performers combine skilled singers and cantors, with general participation from the populace.

Most of the pieces which involved the BREMF Community Chorus were either call and response, or verse and chorus thus giving the soloist, in this case Mercedes Hernandes, a chance to show off her skills. The music for the chorus often sounded chant-like, but was supported by a lovely array of instruments from the instrumental ensemble, and most pieces picked up speed at some point to become rather catchy. Many of the songs, like the slightly later Cantigas de Santa Maria, sounded as if they could have been based on popular melodies.

Fernando Reyes
Fernando Reyes
Soprano Mercedes Hernandes had a very fetching and highly affecting voice, her great directness and plangency of tone combined with personal charm and a lovely infectious way of putting the songs over, interacting not only with the choir but with the audience. We had no texts but hardly needed them. She was brilliantly supported by the three hard working instrumentalists Paulo Gonzalez, Carlos Castor and Fernando Reyes and all brought an infectious toe-tapping quality to the music. And any group which includes a hurdy gurdy, a bagpipe and a psaltery (a hammer dulcimer) is perfectly wonderful in my books.

The evening was structured in sections, with the arrival of the pilgrims  and sections such as Ultreia! (a word in the ancient Galician language meaning Onward or Walk Higher and often scrawled on the Way to encourage pilgrims) and At the sepulchre of St James. The music performed in Santiago de Compostela was influential and pilgrims took its memory home with them, so the evening was also enlivened with pilgrims songs from France, Italy and Germany but the main core of attention was the Codex Calixtinus.

The songs were clearly written for events surrounding the celebrations in Santiago, and the BREMF Community Chorus entered into the spirit with a will. Not only singing but dressing the part, and processing through the church. The BREMF Community Chorus is a non-auditioned choir which is open to all, and they prepared for the concert via two workshop weekends in 2014 and regular study under directors Andrew Robinson and Joe Paxton.

Resonet takes its name from one of the songs in the Codex Calixtinus. They were formed in Santiago de Compostela in 1990 by soprano Mercedes Harnandez and lute player Fernando Reyes who directs the group and Reyes started his musical career as a child singer in the choristers' school of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The music from the Codex Calixtinus is some of the earliest notated polyphonic music in existence (generally a chant-like melody with more elaborate counter-melody over the top) and this could have been a rather dry, academic investigation into the manuscript's many treasures. Instead we were treated to a lively and enlivening performance which music have re-created the festive atmosphere of the original celebrations. In many of the songs the chorus started gently swaying to the music, and I felt like joining them.

Further coverage of BREMF 2014 on this blog, my review of Rome: Popes, Power and Patronage

Elsewhere on this blog:

1 comment:

  1. At least one of the dancing girls of Seville was also singing in the Santiago concert. She wasn't swaying more than the others....

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