And the earth moved – The Tudor Consort performs Brumel’s Earthquake Mass

Antoine Brumel: Missa Et ecce terrae motus; Ross Harris: Vobiscum in aeternum; Jack Body: Psalm 137; Ildebrando Pizzetti;  De Profundis

Tudor Consort directed by Michael Stewart

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul

Saturday 19 May 2012 at 7.30pm

The Tudor Consort, directed by Michael Stewart, performed Antoine Brumel’s monumental  Missa Et ecce terrae motus (The ‘Earthquake’ Mass) on Saturday 19 May at 7.30 in Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. The title is taken from the plainsong antiphon “Et ecce terrae motus” (And the earth moved) sung at the office of Lauds on Easter Sunday. The antiphon text describes the moment of Christ’s Resurrection: “And behold there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.” (St Matthew 28:2) This work, which is scored for 12 parts, was considered by some to be the greatest work for choirs during the High Renaissance period until it was surpassed some 80 years later by Tallis’ 40 part motet Spem in alium.

The mass was excellently sung, with good phrasing, clean and confident entries and a sustained energy and pitch; not an easy task when performing  a work with multiple moving parts in an acoustic in which it is often difficult to hear one’s fellow singers. It was easy to understand the references to earthquakes when there were repeated phrases and the amazing sound of all the voices singing in canon or with differing rhythms.

One of the problems in programming a concert like this one, which features a mass which is too short to occupy a full concert on its own, is to select works to be performed between the movements of the mass which will complement the atmosphere created. In this concert the works selected were all composed in a totally different period, but they were totally in keeping with main work.

These three works included two recently commissioned works for the choir; Vobiscum in aeternum by Ross Harris, and Psalm 137 by Jack Body, and Ildebrando Pizetti’s De Profundis(1937).  As usefully set out in the programme, the brief to the two composers of the commissioned works was to take an ancient piece of music and use it as a starting point for their new creation.

The Ross Harris piece is a prelude to the Tudor motet “If ye love me”, and finishes with the same motif. It created an ethereal atmosphere with its build up and then seamless change to the original motet. Jack Body has started with a liturgical Russian chant for his setting of Psalm 137 “By the waters of Babylon” in the original Hebrew. Both pieces were sung with great confidence and conviction. It is a strength of the choir that they can quickly switch from High Renaissance to very contemporary music so effectively.

The whole programme was energetically directed by Michael Stewart and the choir responded well to his directions. The voices of the choir were very well balanced, and I enjoyed the rich deep bass sound, especially in the Jack Body piece when it added to the Russian influence.

There is good news for those who were unable to hear this magnificent concert. Tudor Consort is recording a CD of the mass and commissioned pieces, and this will be available in July. Orders can be made through their website at All proceeds from the sales of the CDs will be donated to Christchurch Cathedral’s music department.