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<<  -- 3 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT


The pitches, too, moving mainly by step or the pentatonic minor third, or through the godly intervals of fourth and fifth, spring from an instinctual sublimation of speech so that the 'singing' is, almost literally, the Word transcended. Although unity is the philosophical essence, there is sufficient variety of vocal timbre to suggest that individual human beings have distinct identities. Thus among the four tenors Stephen Harrold, and Rogers Covey-Crump impart an airy lyricism, while Charles Daniels and Leigh Nixon sound earthier and more temporally structured. Stephen Charlesworth's baritone belongs with the second brand of tenor, with a slightly deeper, but not muddier, tone-colour. Catherine King, who presumably should be a boy, introduces a different tonal dimension, that I suspect Page intentionally fostered, since the radiance of her singing comes, if not exactly as welcome 'relief', then as evidence of a fervour that, until it happens, we hadn't been aware of. She sings the most ecstatic of the monophonic numbers, such as the marvellous 'Diastematica' [listen -- track 10, 3:00-4:06], an Easter chant ornamented in a way that suggests that human sensuality plays a part in heavenly bliss.

In this context it's relevant that an occasional song leaves us wondering whether the divine Word is necessarily to be preferred to secular flesh. 'Vacillantis trutine', for instance, sung by one of the earthier tenors, is a student song in which a young man admits to being divided between his flowery sweetheart Flora and his theological studies. His recollections of his and the girl's love-play are at once deliciously sexy and playfully tender and we, as well as he, may question whether such physicality ought to be spurned; this is a moment that, after so many hundred years, startlingly springs to life, like the resurrected Christ! Humanity sometimes rears its profane head in more negative contexts -- for instance in 'Ecce torpet probitas', which amounts to social criticism and satirical comment on the fallen world, in contexts both religious and political. This number is appropriately sung by the 'lowest' voice, the baritone. None of the voices needs to be 'trained' in our modern sense.

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Copyright © 2 June 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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