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Thirty minutes later some two hundred or so audience members had found their way across the bridge to the church of St Giles Cripplegate for a further concert, this time of Weir's choral and vocal music.

Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas opened with a dramatic and virtuoso performance of King Harald's Saga, Weir's grand opera in three acts for solo soprano, which lasts a mere ten minutes. This wonderful example of compression and economy relies on the complicity of the listener knowing the references to larger grand opera styles embedded in the text and filling in the 'gaps' left by Weir and solving the clues that she gives you. The piece is an enormous challenge for the soprano who has to play ten roles including that of the entire Norwegian army! But Elin Manahan Thomas rose magnificently to the challenge, performing the piece with great good humour.

This was followed by Weir's All the Ends of the Earth, a re-working of Perotin's Viderunt Omnes for choir, harp and percussion. The men of the choir sing Perotin's bass line, albeit in fragmentary form with rhythms altered, supported by the harp and percussion. Over this framework, Weir spins magical lines of soprano and alto vocals setting a glorious medieval Alleluyatic Sequence based on Psalm 148. The BBC Singers under conductor David Hill with Endymion gave a fine performance of what is a magical work.

The final work of the evening, Weir's Missa del Cid, dispenses with the choral sopranos and is written for solo soprano, Elin Manahan Thomas, and ATB choir. The work is structured like a Latin mass and uses some text from mass mingled with text from the Medieval epic Cantar del Mio Cid. Weir uses the combination of bloodthirsty Medieval epic and Latin mass to point up the contrasts and ironies of the violent activities of such devout Christians as El Cid, committed to removing the moors from Spain by any means possible. The BBC Singers under David Hill gave a superb, committed performance relishing the violent contrasts of the piece.

Though both concerts were fine in their way, this late evening choral and vocal recital was the pure highlight. It revealed the depth and complexity of Weir's talent but also showed an emotive power to move that I did not always find in the orchestral works.

Copyright © 22 January 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK



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