Hilliard Ensemble, Wigmore Hall, review: Thrilling mix of the medieval and modern

Farewell performance was an extraordinary, theatrical triumph

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The Independent Culture

The Hilliards have been edging towards disbandment for a long time now, but they went out with all guns blazing.

For 40 years, these four gents in grey suits have set the pace in a cappella music both medieval and modern. They have vastly expanded the a cappella repertoire, and – as evidenced by the strings of grateful posts following their YouTube performance of Arvo Pärt’s “Most Holy Mother of God” – they’ve tapped into some very dark reservoirs of emotion.

It was with Pérotin’s “Viderunt Omnes” – the oldest extant four-voice work – that they opened their final recital. As they sang their way through the highlights of their rediscoveries and commissions, one realised anew what it was that has made their art unique: a lack of vanity, full-blooded theatricality, and an absolute purity of sound. Thus we revisited extraordinary pieces they had coaxed out of Piers Hellawell, Roger Marsh, and Heiner Goebbels, and thus we re-encountered the poignantly understated passion of Sheryngham’s “Ah, Gentle Jesu”.

With one short encore they were gone, leaving the musical world substantially richer for their presence. A triumphant adieu – and a sad one.