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<<  -- 2 --  Rex Harley    DRAMATIC WRITING


The opening credo, sung at the East end of the church, directly under the altar, gave one immediate confidence. The plainchant was delivered faultlessly, and gave a flavour of the complementary timbres of the male voices. The succeeding taedet dramatically opens up the sound-world of Victoria's creation; only now, in glorious polyphony, are the upper voices introduced. The subsequent Canticum Zachariae returns the listener to plainchant, and thus to the awareness of liturgical context. The feeling one got was of listening at the sort of distance imposed by a cathedral, but without any lack of clarity.

By the Requiem Aeternam the choir was established in the body of the church, in the transept. This movement, and the succeeding Kyrie contain some of the most poignant music in the whole mass. As Bruno Turner memorably observed: 'The six-voiced grandeur of sonority as Victoria builds up his short Kyrie eleison is followed by the Christe with just the four upper voices in a passage so sad that it seems like ritual weeping in music.' This requires singing of a high order; it is not enough to be precise. There must be a sense of underlying emotion which contains the very depths of anguish, without the performance at any time tipping into the histrionic, whereby what seethes beneath the ordered surface is made too explicit.

Christopher Monks
Christopher Monks

A tall order, but the Armonico Consort, though only in existence a little over eighteen months, have a confidence and authority which comes from much rehearsal, and genuine musical rapport, with each other and the music they are singing. Also crucial is the role of the musical director. Christopher Monks is rapidly establishing himself as a choral conductor of enormous flair, who can communicate his vision of the music to his performers with eloquence and precision. In his written notes, he refers to Victoria's polyphony as 'solemn but incredibly intense: dissonances which might usually be short are augmented to draw out the hurt, passion and confusion.' And that is precisely what the singers conveyed in their delivery.

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Copyright © 16 February 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK


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