The Sixteen/Harry Christophers, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Thursday 20 March 2008
Concerts mixing recitations and music tend to prove a mixed blessing, entirely pleasing neither to music- lovers nor to the more literary minded. When a programme also involves a modicum of production – lighting effects, back-projections etc – it can too easily suggest a lack of faith in the music alone to speak.
The strong and coherent sequence of Renaissance and modern choral music reflecting aspects of war that The Sixteen, under Harry Christophers, presented in their latest concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall certainly needed no such enhancement. Indeed, in Poulenc's great cantata Figure humaine, the flickerings of the back projections à travers the tempi of the music proved a maddening distraction. However, the brief readings of poems by Lorca, Auden, Brecht and Eluard were so skilfully chosen, and poignantly spoken by Virginia McKenna and Alan Howard, that for once the literary element really contributed.
The music began with one of those cheerfully onomatopoeic madrigals of Clément Janequin, La guerre, evoking the sounds of battle, then proceeded to the Missa de la batalla escoutez, based on phrases from the Janequin piece by the Spanish Renaissance master Francisco Guerrero. However, Christophers also chose to intersperse the movements of Guerrero's Mass with Poulenc's 4 Motets pour un temps de pénitence, the plaintive chordal litanies of the latter beautifully offsetting the florid counterpoint of the Guerrero, culminating in a radiant eight-part Agnus Dei that was perhaps the highpoint of the evening.
More Guerrero opened the second half, including a magnificent polychoral setting of Duo Seraphim, and thence to Figure humaine (1944), Poulenc's hymn to liberty, setting clandestine Résistance texts by his friend Paul Eluard. It is, of course, a measure of The Sixteen's versatility that they can switch performance styles across the centuries so convincingly, but the consequence is a choral sound more "all purpose" as regards fullness of tone than that cultivated by some, more self-consciously Early Music outfits.
Just occasionally, in louder, denser passages of Poulenc's partwriting, the flaring of vibrato occluded the harmony. Yet the upbeat ending came over as joyously as ever.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 Chelsea victory parade: Chelsea mocked on Twitter as 'tens of fans' pack the streets of London
- 3 US warned by Chinese media to stop meddling or 'war will be inevitable'
- 4 Woman, 21, dies after taking contraceptive pill that 'caused fatal blood clot'
- 5 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
The New York Times sparks criticism after releasing an all-white reading list
Glastonbury lineup 2015: The Women's Institute to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, The Gift, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show’s most iconic characters just met
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people