The Sixteen, Harry Christophers, review: A flawless performance proving the popularity of plainsong

The Sixteen, Harry Christophers, Kings Place, London

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The Independent Culture

It made perfect sense for the opening concert of Kings Place’s Minimalism Unwrapped season to begin with the back-to-the-future frisson of plainsong, because, as The Sixteen’s director Harry Christophers pointed out mid-way through this concert, medieval polyphony’s beginnings were as explosive - and as viscerally exciting - as Stravinsky’s Rite was eight centuries later. Only in the twentieth century did composers find the nerve to create dissonances as crunchy as those of the thirteenth-century monks.

This programme offered a tour d’horizon of the whole process by which the single voice of plainsong multiplied into a plethora of voices.

It was a sweet moment when the first tenor solo broke out through bass homophony in Leonin’s ‘Viderunt omnes’, before John Sheppard’s ‘Gaude Maria’ arrived in a burst of choral splendour.

Thomas Tallis’s ‘Miserere’ followed, generating its polyphony with three different types of canon, and then came the Spanish sumptuousness of Victoria’s ‘Salve Regina’.

There were moments when the subtly varied repetitions set up rhythmic patterns like those of Steve Reich, but the craggy discords of Sheppard’s ‘In manus tuas’ created a tenderness only communicable through religious faith.

This flawless performance showcased the Sixteen’s focus, firmness, and beauty of sound; the packed hall was new proof of plainsong’s extraordinary comeback.