Friday 18 June 2021

Invisible cities: Sansara and Tom Herring explore the striking contemporary polyphony of Marco Galvani for their second album for Resonus

Marco Galvani Invisible Cities; Sansara, Tom Herring; Resonus Classics

Marco Galvani Invisible Cities; Sansara, Tom Herring; Resonus Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 June 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Settings of Lamentations are the focus for a lovely disc which mixes sacred music by the young composer alongside his electronic music

The music of composer Marco Galvani has popped up at various times in the last few years, but a new disc from Sansara, artistic director Tom Herring, on Resonus Classics is the first disc to focus entirely on Galvani's music. Invisible Cities features Galvani's Lamentations alongside a selection of motets plus a sequence of electronic music.

Marco Galvani (born 1994) studied with David Sawyer at the Royal Academy of Music and with Robert Saxon at Oxford University, and whilst at Oxford, Galvani was a choral scholar with The Queen’s College Choir. His choral music mixes influences of polphony with more recent harmonic developments.

Galvani's Lamentations were commissioned by Jeremy Summerly for The Queen's College Chapel Choir in 2013, and Sansara first performed them in 2016. Since then the ensemble has been keen to record the work. The choral music on the disc is split into three groups, with Galvani's series of electronic scores, named for the letters of the Hebrew alphabet used in Lamentations as punctuation.

Lamentations opens with a solo line, chant yet distinctively modern in its outline, and this develops into contemporary polyphony. Galvani manages to create music which is very 21st century yet timeless and in his polphonic textures is not frightened of sharp corners. In both part of Lamentations the music moves between focused intensity and drama, with plenty of contrasts reflecting the words.

Between the two parts of Lamentations comes Ubi caritas, and here the music moves between contrapuntal and homophonic, with a nice warmth to the rich harmonies. In many ways Galvani's use of the traditional Ubi caritas plainchant in the motet is rather daring is this as so well known from Maurice Durufle's setting.

Then come three Marian motets, Ave sanctissima Maria, Ave maris stella and Alma Redemptoris Mater. These are something of a surprise, not the rhapsodic hymns to the Queen of Heaven that we might have expected but three rather concentrated, intense dramas. I was particularly struck by the way that Galvani, in Ave maris stella, moved flexibly between dissonance and consonance, whilst Alma Redemptoris Mater contrasts between single lines and ensemble, all held together by drones.

The final group consists of O sacrum convivium and Super flumina Babylonis. O sacrum convivium builds from a solo voice, to a vocal line to a whole ensemble, moving from poised and thoughtful to dense, intense harmony and then back to intimate again. The opening of Super flumina Babylonis combines warm harmonies with a concentrated feel, and only with the 'Alleluia' does the music get really intense but then moves back to calm.

Galvani was named as one of Sansara's Associate Composers in March 2020 and a recording was intended to cement the relationship, but last year's lockdown put plans on hold. When the recording was finally made in October 2020 it was the first time the choir had sung together in several months, and the text from Lamentations, 'How lonely lies the city that was full of people' began to take on extra resonance. There are thus a number of ways of listening to the album and whilst the listener may see it as simply a fine collection of motets, Tom Herring in his booklet note makes clear that for the performers there are stronger links, relating back to the destruction of Jerusalem and those empty cities, hence Galvani's rather eerie linking electronics.

This is Sansara's second disc for Resonus and the performances are superb. The choir seems really to enjoy Galvani's particular brand of contemporary polyphony. These are pieces which work well in a ligurgical context or in concert alongside older polyphonic music and the way the programme has been assembled with the electronic pieces for contrast succeeds in making a striking programme sequence, one which makes you intrigued to hear more by this composer, particularly some larger scale works.

Marco Galvani (born 1994) - ALEPH
Marco Galvani - Lamentations I
Marco Galvani - Ubi caritas
Marco Galvani - Lamentations II
Marco Galvani - BETH
Marco Galvani - Ave sanctissima Maria
Marco Galvani - Ave maris stella
Marco Galvani - Alma Redemptoris Mater
Marco Galvani - GHIMEL
Marco Galvani - Super flumina Babylonis
Marco Galvani - O sacrum convivium
Marco Galvani - DALETH
Tom Herring (artistic director)
Recorded at the Church of St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London 12-13 October 2020

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