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
THE CAMDEN CHOIR
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