Music from the Sistine Chapel
Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652): Missa ‘Che fa oggi il mio sole’
Felice Anerio (c.1560-1614): ‘Regina caeli laetare’; ‘Ave regina caelorum’ Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521): ‘Domine, non secundum peccata nostra’
Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553): Andreas Christi famulus
Palestrina (1525-1594): ‘Assumpta est Maria’
The Tudor Consort, conducted by Michael Stewart
National War Memorial
26 February 2011, 7pm
The National War Memorial is a venue that the Tudor Consort has used a number of times over its 25 years. This concert was a free one for 70 or so subscribers who attended, to open its 25th anniversary season.
While not quite the Sistine Chapel, this little chapel has a handsomely decorated interior, has superb acoustics for unaccompanied voices, yet is not too reverberant, and is an appropriate size for a small choir – though it has to be said that when in full flight, the Tudor Consort was a shade too loud at times. Some choir members wore (subtle) red with their black, in tribute to those who died and have suffered in the Christchurch earthquake. Michael Stewart announced that the choir would put on a benefit concert for earthquake fund soon.
Most of the items were sung with 14 voices, while one (the Josquin) used only eight. Michael Stewart’s short introductions to the items were informative without overloading us with information. The concert lasted approximately 75 minutes – a good length for this sort of music; longer, and the ear might have become wearied.
The Allegri Mass, like most of his extant music written for the Sistine Chapel Choir, of which he was a member, was broken up to be interspersed between the other items in the programme. The Credo was not sung.
Right from the opening Kyrie of the Mass, attack was excellent, phrases were beautifully shaped, and most of the parts were full-toned and wonderfully varied. In the early part of the program there was a rather metallic sound somewhere in the sopranos in the upper register.
The Gloria presented waves of lovely sound washing over us. The tonal and dynamic contrasts included a soft ‘you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us’: exquisite delicacy in contrast with the robust, muscular bass singing that followed. The texture was almost always well balanced.
Anerio was a priest-composer who wrote for the papal chapel. His ‘Regina caeli’ demonstrated a more complex style than that of Allegri. For these two items the choir moved to singing antiphonally, as two choirs facing each other on opposite sides. The music brought out some of the very rich voices in the choir, as it contrasted homophonic with polyphonic passages to give an extraordinary effect.
The Sanctus and Benedictus of the Allegri Mass revealed perfect tuning from the choir, and superb cadences.
Josquin, the Flemish composer, spent many years at the Sistine Chapel, and his music continued to be sung long after he died – not something that was common at the time. His piece performed by the choir was written for Ash Wednesday, and was appropriately pure and subdued. The choir was reduced to eight singers for this item.
‘Domine, non secundum peccata nostra’ opened with only the two altos and tenor, whose singing was very fine. This was remarkably smooth and restrained singing, yet there was plenty of sonority and volume when required.
The ‘Andreas Christi famulus’ of the prolific Spanish composer and member of the papal choir, Cristóbal de Morales, was full of lavish sounds, especially at the cadences. The audience luxuriated in the intertwining chords and contrapuntal lines flowing ever onward.
The Allegri Agnus Dei was exquisite; very dramatic, yet graceful and elegant.
Palestrina’s tenure as a choir member was short-lived; he was married, and a change of pope from Marcellus who appointed him in 1555 meant that the rules were more strictly applied, so he had to go. His hymn to Mary featured wonderful word-painting. It was much the most declamatory, confident and exuberant of the items. The confident music was matched by the confidence of the choir, who produced a full, extravert tone throughout, with florid, contrasted dynamics.
The building’s resonance had a curious effect: the pitch of the reverberation was always slightly sharper than the note just sung – only noticeable at the end of items – rather like the effect when a car, train or other vehicle sounding its horn passes one; the pitch after it has passed is higher.
It was a concert of uplifting music, sung with verve, energy and conviction. The choir reached a high level of achievement and professionalism.