<< -- 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.
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.
Copyright © 16 February 2003
Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK