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The Vasari Singers have made many recordings for EMI, starting in 1989 with Favourite Church Anthems by Elgar, Stanford, Bainton, Bairstow and Balfour Gardiner. In 1991 came Britten's Hymn to Saint Cecilia, Ceremony of Carols, Rejoice in the Lamb and Sacred and Profane. 'A great challenge' says Backhouse 'which came off extremely well'. Next they financed a record of music by Humphrey Clucas, a fifty-year-old teacher and lay clerk at Westminster Abbey. They have also recorded the Herbert Howells Requiem and Frank Martin's Mass.

Such versatility in the record studio is paralleled in concert with repertoire as diverse as Stravinsky's A Symphony of Psalms, Poulenc's Gloria and Handel's Dixit Dominus.

Superbly equipped technically, they easily cope with the perils of tone cluster intonation, or the abrupt changes of pitch and harmony in Arvo Pärt's Magnificat Antiphons, for example, whose writing for voices rises inexorably into upper regions where, as I discovered once at sessions in St Giles, Cripplegate for their latest CD -- a disc of contemporary music -- the harmonics attendant on organ pedal notes can easily throw the choir off balance.

'Yes!' Jeremy laughed. 'The organist puts an interesting registration just before those pedal notes. Initially they sounded just a little bit too woolly for us to tune into, but once they were registered to give a bit more piquancy, it was fine.'

'It's difficult to describe the style of Pärt's Beatitudes' Jeremy admitted. 'Essentially it's simple. Not contemporary in terms of being very dissonant, but all very harmonic and tonal. Just simple block harmonies and the moods created by that simplicity.'

'The Tavener miniatures -- Hymn to the Mother of God, Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis -- are also very simple but I think they create a more immediate effect. Because they're so short, they are not going to stretch the listeners' concentration or bore them.

'The music derives of course from Tavener's belief in the Greek Orthodox Church. The Funeral Ikos takes as its text the liturgy for the burial of priests. Candles and incense and great bells -- that is the pictorial image of Tavener for me.

'Totus tuus, the Gorecki piece on the disc, is most interesting. It's in B flat / A flat major with three or four simple melodic and harmonic ideas which he repeats and repeats and repeats. Spiritual music again, and we haven't performed it in public, so I'm going to reserve judgement. But I think it could be extremely effective.

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Copyright © 15 November 2003 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK


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