The Tudor Consort – an afternoon of choral filigree

J.S.BACH – The Six Motets BWV 225-230

Tudor Consort, directed by Michael Stewart

St Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Saturday September 12 2009

Review by Anna McGregor

Seats were scarce at St Andrews on the Terrace on Saturday afternoon as the Tudor Consort presented their programme of six motets attributed to J.S. Bach. Admired by generations of musicians, these works have been described as ‘a pinnacle of absolute vocal music’, and greatly influenced the choral music of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahms. This was a rare opportunity to experience all six works in succession and provided the listener with a unique platform to compare the facets of each.

Under the direction of Michael Stewart, the Tudor Consort produced a well-blended and clean sound, successfully negotiating highly demanding vocal lines with stamina. The 21-strong ensemble split into two antiphonal choirs for the first half of the programme, opening with Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225), accompanied by Douglas Mews on chamber organ and Emma Goodbeheere on baroque cello. The balance and colour between the choirs was well matched, enabling the ensemble to smoothly interplay during alternating passages. Unfortunately the continuo was often overwhelmed – subtleties of articulation and timbre may have become more apparent with the addition of a small string section.

The group re-united in the second half for the centrepiece of the programme, Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227) with soloists Anna Sedcoe, Erin King, Andrea Cochrane, Richard Taylor and Richard Walley emerging from within the ensemble. Almost in defiance of its conception as a funeral motet, this is a colourful and highly emotive masterpiece as well as a gauntlet of textural demands for any ensemble. The Tudor Consort shifted with ease and breadth of expression between highly contrapuntal fugues to reduced chamber sections to strident but lyrical chorales.

What better way to spend an afternoon than fully immersed in Bach – credit to the Tudor Consort for fantastic programming and a very fine performance.

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