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Staggering beauty


RODERIC DUNNETT listens to Judy Martin's choir Voces Sacrae

Michael Finnissy - Seven Sacred Motets. Copyright (c) 1999 David Lefeber, Metier Sound & VisionVoces Sacrae is a very impressive choir indeed. Four years ago, when I first heard them in Oxford, there was more than a hint of excellence in their approach to a wide range of repertoire. But this is in a different league. Not only is the singing on their recording of Michael Finnissy's Seven Sacred Motets out of this world. It has an aura as well, and somehow seems to bridge a thousand years. [Listen - track 6, 00:00 - 01:02.]

Principally this is due to Finissy's extraordinary volte-face in producing seven such exquisite extended miniatures, which were it not for a slight post-Tavener sensation one might think to be an exact re-evocation of the sound in of one William the Conqueror or his great grandson Henry II's vast Norman choirs and apses.

But there is no Tavener or Hilliard-cloning here. The melisma-decorated plainsong base of these motets and - in odd bursts of vitality - their medieval carol-like feel is extraordinarily evocative, and there is something unusually pure and direct about the way Finnissy has suppressed all his modernist urges (except that of returning to roots) and produced a series of settings that are both unerringly beautiful and wholy apt for their sacred context.

Voces Sacrae. Photo: David Lefeber

Voces Sacrae. Photo: David Lefeber


Judy Martin's 9-strong choir consists of highly experienced singers - they include some well-known younger names on the sacred music scene - and there are no weak links at all : upper and lower voices alike deliver a performance of staggering beauty, and one in marked sympathy with the music. There is also - perhaps the more decorated and melismatic passages suggest this - an eastern or mediterranean feel to their singing, as if the origins, if not Caen or Bayeux, could have been captured Acre or Norman-ruled Jerusalem, with the added sensation that somehow the infidel's music had managed to get a look in too. There is a strangely alluring feeling of unforced neo-mediaeval 'authenticity'. [Listen - track 3, 00:00 - 00:59.] The texts are from Luke, John, llth C Marian invocations, the Venerable Bede and the great Hildegard of Bingen herself.


Copyright © 30 April 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK






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