Purcell and MacMillan from The Sixteen,
heard by MIKE WHEELER
In one of the most eagerly awaited concerts of the year, The Sixteen and conductor Harry Christophers brought their annual Choral Pilgrimage to Derby for the first time (Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 20 June 2009). The programme, one of two they are touring this year, consisted of sacred music by Purcell, judiciously seasoned with recent pieces by James MacMillan. All of it was marked by their characteristically vibrant tone and focused intensity.
While the programme's overall emotional balance was firmly weighted towards the contemplative and penitential, the choir's choice of both familiar and unfamiliar Purcell ensured variety of pace, if not mood. Opening with a lovingly-shaped account of Purcell's Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei, they brought plenty of vigour to the later stages of Let mine eyes run down with tears, and Beati omnes was gracefully lilting.
Charlotte Mobbs and Alex Kidgell gave a touching performance of O dive custos, Purcell's lament on the death of Queen Mary; their perfectly-placed final cadence was breath-catching.
In MacMillan's O bone Jesu, which The Sixteen commissioned in 2002, the singers brought a glow to both the music's massive sonorities and its intimate intricacy. Two of his series of motets written for Strathclyde University Chamber Choir were given similarly luminous treatment, as was A child's prayer, MacMillan's response to the Dunblane School massacre, all the more moving for its restraint.
The concert ended with Purcell's Funeral Sentences, including the earlier and less familiar setting of Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of our Hearts. As an unannounced extra, the later and better-known setting, sung with richness and warmth, was a beautifully-judged end to the evening.
Copyright © 27 June 2009