The Tudor Consort: A German Requiem
Schütz: Musikalische Exequien, Op. 7
Domenico Scarlatti: Stabat Mater
St. Mary of the Angels Church
Saturday, 4 September, 8 pm
Despite the programme stating that the concert was at Sacred Heart Cathedral, it did take place in the suitably more ornate and comfortable (though cold) St Mary of the Angels, with its excellent acoustics. There was a large and appreciative audience.
A small instrumental ensemble (Emma Goodbehere, cello, Richard Hardie, bass, Steve Pickett, theorbo, Douglas Mews, organ, and Donald Nicolson, harpsichord) accompanied the choir; the conductor was Matthew Leese (brother of Anna), who is currently studying and working in Illinois. He is in New Zealand to conduct what is probably the first production in this country of Monterverdi’s Orfeo, widely considered to be the first genuine opera. It is to be performed in Dunedin, where Matthew studied for his undergraduate music degree, as part of the Otago Festival, next month.
Before the concert began, Michael Stewart (the regular conductor of the Consort) gave a short talk about the works to be performed. He discussed Luther’s reforms, and the difference between the latter’s view of death and the Catholic view (this in a Catholic church!). He referred to the possibility that Brahms had modelled his Ein Deutsches Requiem on this work of Schütz, the score of which Brahms apparently had in his library.
The Musikalisches Exequien were composed for the funeral of Count Heinrich Posthumous Reuss in 1635. The work intersperses Biblical verses with poetic meditations, alternately utilising chorale settings and solo passages with continuo. The work consists of Kyrie and Gloria, Motet (‘Herr, wenn ich nur Dich habe’) and the canticle Nunc Dimittis. The work was entirely in German, including the introductory plainsong.
The work opened with the instruments, whose sound was quite gorgeous. However, in this movement it took a little time for the ten singers to penetrate through the instrumental sound. When they did, they produced a lovely sound. A few notes were not quite spot on, but as the concert progressed, intonation and timbre were mostly perfect. An unusual feature was that the conductor also sang, as one of the basses.
A solo section in the Kyrie, ‘Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm’, was beautifully sung by tenor Dan Carberg.
The Gloria did not sound particularly gloryifying, being made up mainly of texts contemplating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Variety in expression was achieved by solos interspersed with choral sections, and some solos having organ and cello accompaniment only.
Another fine tenor solo, ‘Ach, wie elend ist unser Zeit’, was from Dan Carberg from the United States, although there were a few rum notes. (He will sing the main role in Orfeo.)
The motet, ‘Herr wenn ich nur Dich habe’ had the choir reformed into two choirs. This was a lively rhythmically and harmonically strong piece, quite in contrast to the previous more contrapuntal music, that wove its way beautifully around the space.
The last part of the canticle ‘Nunc Dimittis’, (which in English would be ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord’) was set for a main five-part choir, while two sopranos, one bass and the theorbo removed to the side-chapel to create a antiphonal effect, though their music was no mere echo. It was inevitable that one would think of Brahms’s beautiful setting of these same words.
The choir was accomplished as always, but there was not a lot of dynamic variation in the music, compared with the Scarlatti that followed. Matthew Leese’s beat was clear, and the blend of the voices excellent. I felt that some of the bass parts were a little low for his voice and also for that of the other bass, meaning that the sound was not the best quality that they were capable of.
The Stabat Mater was surprisingly cheerful, given its subject, compared with those of Pergolesi and others. The second movement, ‘Cujus animam’, featured gorgeous harmonies and a lovely organ part played by Douglas Mews. The balance of the instruments was somewhat of a difficulty throughout the work. I could sometimes hear the cello when all instruments were playing, because often its part was doubled on the bass, but not always. The harpsichord came through quite well (it was not used in every movement), but despite my sitting almost at the front of the church, I very seldom heard the theorbo. Its quiet timbre simply did not penetrate through the sound of the other instruments and the singers – or through the music stand.
The choir produced superb tone in the third movement, ‘Quis non posset’, depicting the feeling of the words, describing Mary seeing her son scourged and dying. This was especially true of the tenors. Soaring contrapuntal lines seemed to weave in and out of the architecture of the church, with its arches and pillars, in the fifth movement ‘Sancta mater’; it ended with an exquisite cadence.
The ‘Inflammatus’ eighth movement excitedly demonstrated the theme. Tenor Carberg and soprano Erin King were very accomplished, singing these fast passages. The complex final movement was a tour de force of 10 solo singers rather than choir.
Balance was good through most of the concert, though in the last two movements, two sopranos were a little too strong for the rest of the choir, at least from my position. Another disadvantage was that since Matthew Leese was both conducting and singing, his position meant he had his back to people on the right-hand side of the church a great deal of the time.
Heartfelt applause greeted the end of the concert; one could only say ‘Bravo!’ to another magnificent performance by the Tudor Consort.