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.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 2 Pub landlord captures moment customer falls over on CCTV – just like Del Boy did on Only Fools and Horses
- 3 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
- 4 Frankie Boyle on Scottish independence: 'In the Interests of Unity, F**k Off'
- 5 How to gain confidence and maximise your sexual potential
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: We're back alright, but on very familiar ground
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Eurovision 2015: What date is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Noel Gallagher 'cannot wait' to hear Oasis-inspired One Direction album but rants about 'pointless' Tidal and Spotify
In defence of liberal democracy
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
Andy McSmith's Sketch: Feisty audience is the real star of an enlightening show