Tuesday 24 August 2021

To the max: supersize polyphony from Armonico Consort for its 20th birthday

Armonico Consort & Christopher Monks (Photo Peter Marsh Ashmore Visuals)
Armonico Consort & Christopher Monks
(Photo Peter Marsh Ashmore Visuals)
The Armonico Consort is 20 this year and to celebrate artistic director Christopher Monks is taking the ensemble on tour during September and October 2021 with a programme of large-scale Renaissance choral music, performing some of the largest scale pieces of the period. Alongside Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium, Armonico Consort will give rare performances of Heinrich Biber's Missa Salisburgensis for 53 voices and Alessandro Striggio's 60-part Missa sopra Ecco sì Beato Giorno, interspersed with the plainsong chants of Hildegard von Bingen.

Italian composer Alessandro Striggio wrote music for the courts in Florence and Ferrara as well as having links with Munich. His mass Missa sopra Ecco si Beato Giorno was probably written in Florence in 1565–6, during the reign of his employer Cosimo I de' Medici. It is thought that Striggio may have had music for this mass or his 40-part motet Ecce beatam lucem (written for the court in Munich) with him when he came to London on a diplomatic visit in 1567, since Thomas Tallis seems to have been inspired and challenged by it, and shortly afterwards wrote his own 40-voice tour-de-force Spem in alium, commissioned by Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.

Bohemian composer Heinrich Biber worked most of his life in Salzburg and his Missa Salisburgensis (1682) is one of a group of his large-scale polychoral works which were inspired by the grand setting of Salzburg Cathedral and was probably written for the commemoration of the 1100th anniversary of the Archbishopric of Salzburg.

The masses by Striggio and Biber are comparatively recent discoveries to the musical world, both emerging within the last 50 years. The Biber mass, which first came to light in the 1870s, was attributed to Orazio Benevoli until the 1970s and the Striggio was first performed in modern times as recently as 2007. Both masses use the Renaissance tradition of creating choirs mixing voices and instruments, whereas Tallis' motet seems to have been written for purely choral performance.

Armonico Consort recorded their Supersize Polyphony programme in 2019, see my record review.

Armonico Consort's 20th birthday celebration tour of Striggio, Biber and Tallis, takes place in Warwick (25 September), Malvern (1 October), Poole (9 October) and Canterbury Cathedral (16 October).  For full details please see the ensemble's website.

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