Thursday 23 August 2018

In Sorrow's Footsteps: The Marian Consort in Gabriel Jackson, James MacMillan, Palestrina & Allegri

In Sorrows Footsteps - The Marian Consort - Delphian
Palestrina, Gabriel Jackson, Allegri, James MacMillan; The Marian Consort, Rory McCleery; Delphian Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 August 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Ancient & modern: contemporary settings of sacred texts alongside iconic settings from the past

This latest disc from the Marian Consort, director Rory McCleery, on Delphian, In Sorrow's Footsteps, compares and contrasts ancient and modern settings of iconic sacred texts, with settings of the Stabat Mater by Palestrina and Gabriel Jackson, and the Miserere (Psalm 51) by Allegri and James MacMillan, with two motets by Palestrina completing the programme.

The Marian Consort sings these pieces one voice to a part, which provides and interesting perspective on pieces which are generally sung by larger ensembles nowadays; only Gabriel Jackson's piece, written for The Marian Consort, was conceived for single voices. Palestrina's music, written for the Sistine Chapel Choir, would have been performed by single voices and larger groups, and James MacMillan's piece was written for The Sixteen.

We being with Gabriel Jackson's Stabat Mater, written for The Marian Consort in 2017. The piece starts with a cry of pain in the form of dense, intense chords. Jackson uses a fluid structure, moving between single lines, translucent polyphonic textures and moments of dense intense pain, with his familiar undulating chant-inflected vocal lines often present. The Marian Consort gives a wonderfully intense yet precise performance, with superb placement in the dense chords and expressive solo moments.

The ensemble follows this with Palestrina's motet Super flumina Babylonis. They bring the same focused, concentrated sound to the Palestrina as to the Gabriel Jackson creating a contained, melancholy performance.

Palestrina's Stabat Mater is a setting of the iconic text for two four-part choirs. There is hardly any polyphony, instead Palestrina uses homophonic interaction between the two choirs to ensure the primacy of the text. This is a very poised performance, and a true consort one with the eight individual voices clearly expressed. This creates a remarkable intimacy, yet a real directness too. So the words are completely clear, particularly as the speed is relatively slow making the piece rather stately.

Allegri's Miserere exists in multiple versions and his 17th century original is far different to the one known today. The Marian Consort unfortunately use the traditional version, with the top C which was introduced during the 20th century, rather than a more coherent edition such as the one created by Ben Byram Wigfield for The Sixteen. That said, performing the work with single voices creates a very concentrated feel, with some lovely shapely phrases. The overall tempo is quite steady and I found the base pulse of the chant a little too much so. Choir Two, the solo quartet, is placed quite distant with an acoustic aura. Technically this is superb, with pinpoint top Cs.

This is followed by an artful account of Palestrina's Ave Maria. The phrases are beautifully shaped, but overall I found it rather slow.

For the final work on the disc we return to the 21st century with James MacMillan's Miserere, written for The Sixteen and intended deliberately as a complement to Allegri's setting of the same text. MacMillan starts with the lower voices, low and dark. Essentially lyric, this is highly concentrated music. The men are followed by the upper voices, intense and with great clarity of texture. The use of single voices give a different focus to MacMillan's fascinating manipulation of texture throughout the piece. The louder sections have a very focused intensity, whilst the quieter, more relaxed sections are intimate, with a superb attention to the shape of phrases.

Whilst the performances of the Palestrina and Allegri are highly creditable, it is the Gabriel Jackson and the James MacMillan that I will return to as The Marian Consort give performances of remarkable focus, technical poise and intensity.

The Marian Consort: Charlotte Ashley, Gwendolen Martin, Rachel Ambrose Evans, Cecilia Osmond, Helen Charlston, Hannah Cooke, Guy Cutting, Ashley Turnell, Michael Craddock, Edmund Saddington

Gabriel Jackson (born 1962) - Stabat Mater
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) - Super flumina Babylonis
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina  - Stabat Mater
Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) - Miserere
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina - Ave Maria
James MacMillan (born 1959) - Miserere
The Marian Consort
Rory McLeery (director)
Recorded 8-10 January 2018 in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford
DELPHIAN DCD34215 1CD [61:19]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Grand rarity: Halevy's La reine de Chypre revealed by Palazzeto Bru Zane (★★★★) - CD review
  • The Grand Manner - Aprile Millo's London debut recital at the Cadogan Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  • Songs of Farewell - BBC Singers and Sakari Oramo at the Proms (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Bayreuth’s Tristan und Isolde was grand and convincing in every conceivable way harbouring a sting in its tail (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Keeping her secrets: Tom Randle's Love Me To Death explores the mysterious Ruth Ellis (★★★★)  - Opera review
  • The Opera That Goes Wrong: Tête à Tête's Toscatastrophe!  - Opera review
  • Bayreuth’s Parsifal provided a sensitive portrayal of humanity overcoming adversity (★★★★★)  - Opera review
  • As important as ever: Opera Rara's mission to rediscover, record and perform rare opera  - interview
  • Hubert Parry - the complete string quartets (★★★)  - CD review
  • Out of the mouths of babes: Metta Theatre at Tête à Tête (★★★)  - Opera review
  • if there were water - Two different, yet challenging contemporary choral pieces in this striking disc from the American choir, The Crossing (★★★★) - CD review
  • Bayreuth’s new production of Lohengrin has taken the Green Hill by storm (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Exploring advanced techniques: flautist Sara Minelli's New Resonances (★★★)   - CD review
  • Leaving on a high: final revival of Jan Philipp Gloger's production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Bayreuth Festival  (★★★★★)  - Opera review
  • Home

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