PROMS: BBC Singers / Holten - Royal Albert Hall / Radio 3

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The Independent Culture
The BBC Singers' late-night Prom spanned almost 500 years of vocal music, from Josquin Desprez, the great master of the early Renaissance, to works by living composers. Both Arvo Part and John Tavener have become cult figures, largely on the basis of their extraordinarily rich output of religiously inspired choral music, although it is surely its atmospheric, minimalistic stillness that has proved appealing in this secular age. The Singers are perhaps unrivalled in their approach to contemporary works: Part's Seven Magnificat Antiphons had been revised for the occasion and dedicated to guest conductor, Bo Holten, under whose direction they gave a committed performance.

Despite evidence of Part's instinct for vocal colour, the piece made little impact (at least over the air-waves) until the final setting, which climaxed with a sublime inverted pedal-point effect. The Tavener works (Two Hymns and Eonia) were more consistently effective and saw the Singers in their element, with a full-bodied sound that complemented perfectly the radiant, almost ecstatic quality of these finely drawn miniatures. Through the work of specialist 'early music' choirs we have become less accustomed to such a full sonority in Renaissance polyphony. Here, in these multi- voiced pieces by Josquin and his pupil Nicholas Gombert, it was not inappropriate, but some necessary textural clarity was missing in Gombert's eight-voice Credo.