The King's Consort, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Neither Tube strikes nor New Year revellers could deter the audience of the Wigmore Hall's packed final concert of 2005, billed as part of its Early Music & Baroque series. Revelries had perhaps already begun: here were the estimable King's Consort (of Purcell and Monteverdi fame) under their founder-director Robert King, performing Brahms and Elgar!

True, Tallis - as a last grasp at his 400th anniversary - held up the flag with his a cappella "Missa Puer natus est nobis", the 18-strong choir cruelly squashed on the Wigmore's tiny stage. This incomplete Mass divides the choir into seven parts, producing an undulating score, richly weaving in contrapuntal lines. It's not "Spem in alium", but the rocking and swaying imitative texture shows clearly the same pen.

It was a pity that there was no spatial separation and that the acoustic of the Wigmore failed to permit a greater bloom on the vocal sound. From this "early music group", a blend of vibratos was evident, the sopranos bright and cherubic, the lower parts warmer and fuller. But the delivery was staid.

Elgar's Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands came as an enormous contrast: from the chapel to the drawing room. These six songs, written in 1895, are both spoof Bavarian and spoof Brahms, the first ("The Dance"), with its "um-cha-cha" piano accompaniment, conjuring up visions of thigh-slapping yokels. But in the second, "False Love", Elgar pre-empts barbershop sweetness. How different it all was then, the music so certain, the message sturdy in its patriotism. Less certain was the ability of The King's Consort to morph. With Gary Cooper providing a stylish piano accompaniment, the choir was trapped in the English mode of a few centuries earlier.

To send us out into the New Year, there was echt Brahms: Neue Liebeslieder Waltzer. This is his third set and, possibly contrary to popular belief, is not a series of "knees-up" waltzes around the piano (in this case, four hands ably provided by Gary Cooper and Matthew Halls). Indeed, most of the 15 songs address the woes of love. Again, more vocal passion would not have gone amiss - but on the last night of the year, perhaps I'm being churlish!

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