Armonico Consort, Cadogan Hall (4/5)
Thursday 08 December 2011
With German Christmas markets springing up like mushrooms in British cities, it was appropriate that the Armonico Consort should present a seventeenth-century musical complement.
And no better way to start than with Heinrich Schutz’s ‘Christmas Story’ which, as Armonico’s musical director Christopher Monks observes, is a sort of Advent calendar of pop-up scenes, the Nativity being narrated by an Evangelist with hymns, trios, and instrumental interludes along the way.
The instrumental line-up consisted of strings, harpsichord, chamber organ, bassoon, two cornets, and three sackbuts (proto-trombones), all of which made a perfect backdrop. And the choral sound seemed both familiar and strange: familiar in that one could hear the influence of Schutz’s Italian exemplars Monteverdi and Gabrieli in the melismas decorating the solos, but at the same time very German in the hymns’ down-home innocence. The choral singing had charm, but what tenor Michael Solomon-Williams did with the Evangelist’s gently melodious recitatives was remarkable, shaping and colouring them with the most delicate restraint: this was a real star turn.
The second half of the concert was devoted to a collection of Michael Praetorius’s chorale arrangements – and with a thousand such things to choose from, Monks had a rich seam to mine. Praetorius slightly predated Schutz, and was even more devout: his initials – Michael Praetorius Creuzburgensis – also meant for him ‘Mihi Patria Coelum’ (Heaven is my native land). He famously declared that ‘the art of choral singing is truly the correct, heavenly way of making music’. And he too was influenced by Monteverdi and Gabrieli – though as Monks and his performers went on to demonstrate, in a rather more dramatic way.
We had ravishing interludes on woodwind and brass whose primitive technology produced fascinating textures, but the glory of this compendium lay in the way the chorus kept dividing and sub-dividing itself to spread to all four corners of the auditorium, at one point splitting into twenty parts. The programme was written in such a way that it was impossible to discover the name of the excellent soprano who sang ‘In dulce jubilo’ (itself misspelt) at a stratospheric pitch, but the star turn here was a solo by counter-tenor William Towers, whose opulent sound blended with the accompanying sackbuts as though he were a brass instrument himself.
TVJamie's Sugar Rush reveal's campaigning chef's new foe
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
Star Wars: New action dolls launched on Force Friday ahead of The Force Awakens release
Ricki And The Flash, film review: Meryl Streep's rock'n'roll creation steals the show
Joan Aiken: Today's Google Doodle celebrates life of British fantasy novelist
Photographer captures the beauty and intensity of his girlfriend giving birth at home
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up