Music and Vision homepage



Whistle stop tour

MALCOLM MILLER appreciates
The Camden Choir's Renaissance Music


The Camden Choir's whistle stop tour of Renaissance Music at St Mary's Primrose Hill, London, UK on 9 March 2002 was a tour de force, with ravishing music by Lassus, Josquin des Prez, Palestrina, and Byrd infused with vitality and richness under the dynamic command of musical director Julian Williamson. His interpretations were brimming with clarity and colour, a lightness of touch also evident in the illuminating introductions that guided us through the context of each work.

It was especially refreshing to hear two contrasted settings of the Mass by twin pillars of the polyphonic style, Josquin's Missa Pange Lingua and Palestrina's Missa Descendit Angelus Domini based on a French motet. In each, the chant on which each section is based was projected brightly by the tenor David Walder. Interestingly, whereas Palestrina was born almost a century later, Josquin, 'father of the Ars Moderna' appears almost proto-baroque in his contrasts of flowing polyphony, dance like metrical sections and chordal rhetorical passages. Josquin's features lively rhythms and buoyant imitation as in the 'Gloria' with evocative use of dynamics, while Palestrina's has a broader lyrical tracery. The contrast at 'Et Incarnatus', expressively sung in chords in both versions, symbolizes a convention followed for centuries. While Palestrina is more flamboyantly decorative in the 'Et in Spiritum Sanctum', Josquin's 'Sanctus' was far more zestful than Palestrina, with male voices in the 'Benedictus' in contrast to Palestrina's high voices. The 'Agnus Dei' similarly is far more flowing and contrapuntal in Palestrina's version than Josquin, who divides it into three separate statements, yet each conclude with a passionately exquisite sense of peace and resolution.

The Camden Choir was in splendid form throughout, with vibrant sopranos and an especially resonant bass section, supported strongly by the organist Peter Lea Cox; there was hardly any intonation fluctuation. They excelled in the Three Motets by Orlando de Lassus to begin, and in the tuneful 'This is the Record of John' by the English Orlando Gibbons. Mellifluous singing of two motets by Byrd, the dominating composer of English renaissance, 'Teach Me, O Lord' and the rich, ebullient 'Laudibus in Sanctis' concluded an evening of polyphonic mastery.

Camden Choir's next concert, including Ethel Smyth's Mass in D, is on 22 June 2002 at Hampstead Parish Church, London, UK.

Copyright © 19 March 2002 Malcolm Miller, London, UK





 << Music & Vision home           La Traviata >>