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Reviews

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In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall’s Musick (director, Andrew Carwood) at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: The Cardinall’s Musick

 

Palestrina’s musical devotions to Saints Peter and Paul opened with the composer’s six-voice motet, Tu es Petrus, and the parody mass which it inspired. With just a single voice to each part, Carwood generated a strong sense of forward movement and exploited the vibrant luminosity that Palestrina’s ‘antiphonal’ effects create, as the three higher voices alternate with the three lower strands in the opening phrases - an effect which reappears in the movements of the mass. There was a gradual blossoming as the music drove towards the confident statement, ‘Et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum’ (And I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven), but the mood remained buoyant and fresh. Though the six ‘solo’ voices cannot produce a rich sonorous blend such as might swell around a Baroque basilica during a liturgical ritual, bathing the congregation in an inspiring wash of resonant fullness, the differentiation of the individual lines, each sung with strong character, enabled Carwood to subtly highlight individual lines and phrases, which simultaneously injected muscularity into the evolving polyphony, with the brightness of the soprano and alto adding further ‘uplift’.

The movements of the Mass were interspersed with Gregorian chants for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul - Introitus, Alleluia Tu es Petrus, Offertorium - Constitues eos and Communio Tu es Petrus - sung by tenor and countertenor voices from the rear of Wigmore Hall.

The Cardinall’s Musick deliver their repertory directly and without affectation, and the six voices invited an intimacy that is entirely appropriate for Wigmore Hall. But, I could not help reflecting that this music might not be similarly apt for the venue; it was not intended for ‘performance’ but for participation, in a spiritual sense, and would not have been delivered in a ‘static’ manner but rather during the ritual processions and acts of the liturgy, the sound moving through the architectural spaces with wondrous and elevating impact.

That said, The Cardinall’s Musick sang the Mass with assurance and some sense of the spiritual engagement it was designed to inspire. The interweaving of the even lines of the Kyrie resolved into the purity of a shining cadential ‘eleison’, the SSA group within the ensemble conveying heaven-aspiring lucidity. A light flowing bass line in the Gloria created relaxed momentum, though I felt that in this and other of the longer movements, greater variety of dynamics and colour would have communicated a stronger response to the text. Carwood demonstrated clear insight into the formal structure of the movements though, producing a measured sense of acceleration in anticipation of the ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’. And, the same flexibility was evident and put to good effect in the Credo; the expansiveness achieved with the phrase ‘Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto,/ Ex Maria virgine, et homo factus’ (And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man) was powerful. In the Sanctus and Benedictus, the tender unfolding conveyed peace and assurance, and again the strong but sweet bass line illuminated ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ from below, with the voices finding surprisingly translucence with the pronouncement of the blessing itself. With the Agnus Dei came a lowering of tessitura, suggesting the arrival of a point of rest, which was reassuringly achieved in the six-voice echo of the ‘Ite missa est’ (the Mass is ended).

More Palestrina followed the interval, with Saint Paul taking his turn to be venerated in the composer’s ‘Magnus sanctus Paulus’. Here, the power of the full eight-voice ensemble made itself felt in the decorative floridity of the appeal, ‘Qui te elegit, ut digni efficiamur gratia Dei’ (so that we may be worthy by the grace of God); when repeated in the concluding episode, the muscular counterpoint, driven from the bottom, truly conveyed a striving to be ‘worthy’.

Saints Mark, Bartholomew and Andrew were honoured in music by composers who are not such household names. Giovanni Bassano was employed in Venice as a wind player and became leader of the instrumental ensemble at San Marco Basilica. The rich homophony of the close of his ‘O rex gloriae’ a5 (published 1598) resolved into a lovely fluid Alleluia which wound its way expressively through the syllables. The four-part ‘Sanctus Bartholomaeus’ (published 1586) of Jacob Handl was followed by Thomas Crecquillon’s ‘Andreas Christus famulus’ (1546). Little is known of Crecquillon’s life, though he was associated with the chapel of the Emperor Charles V for ten or more years from 1540 and was sufficiently esteemed for a major retrospective of his motets to be published after his death (c.1557). Crecquillon’s eight-voice motet ‘Andreas Christi famulus’ was composed for the annual meeting of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1546 and was for a time judged to be the work of Cristóbal de Morales. Here, as the contrapuntal glories extended the compass, the tuning was less consistently secure. Moreover, in this less familiar repertory, the singers were understandably more score-bound and sometimes lacking in animation.

Sacred music from Spain in honour of the Virgin Mary concluded the programme. Tomás Luis de Victoria’s ‘Vidi speciosam’ a6 (1572) was beautifully sung. The gently restful repetitions - ‘Flores rosarum et lilia convallium’ (She was surrounded by roses and lilies of the valley) - conjured the sweet fragrance of the Virgin who ascends from streams of water, as beautiful as a dove. Here, the singers captured the drama and spirituality of music, moving through the sublime harmonic progressions with an animation sometimes lacking elsewhere. Carwood sat at the side during the four-voice ‘Virgo prundetissima’ (1555) of Francisco Guerrero, a prolific composer who was born in Seville in 1528.

Sebastián de Vivanco (c.1551-1622) was born in Ãvila at roughly the same time as Victoria and has been rather overshadowed by the latter’s achievements and renown. However, with the full complement of voices reassembled, The Cardinall’s Musick showed us that, while less experimental than Victoria, Vivanco could craft imposing counterpoint. The ‘Magnificat octavi toni’ (published 1607) accumulated majesty through the evolving parts, building to a series of statements of comfort and certainty: ‘Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est’ (For he that is might has done great things for me), ‘Suscepit Israel puerum suum:/Recordatus misericordiae’ (Concerning Israel, his child: he remembered his mercifulness). The blending of voices in the final Gloria Patri et Filio was reassuringly resonant and firm.

Despite my minor misgivings about the partnership of repertory and context, this was a beautifully sung programme - and a well-conceived one too, engagingly introduced and explained by Andrew Carwood. The Cardinall’s Musick will present another opportunity to enter the company of heaven in January next year , returning to Wigmore Hall to perform works focusing on Mary Magdalene and other saints.

Claire Seymour

In the Company of Heaven : The Cardinall’s Musick (Andrew Carwood, director)

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina - Motet Tu es Petrus, Missa Tu es Petrus (interspersed with sections from Gregorian Chant Propers for the Feast of SS Peter and Paul), Magnus Sanctus Paulus a8; Giovanni Bassano - O Rex gloriae; Jacob Handl - Sanctus Bartholomeus; Thomas Crecquillon - Andreas Christi famulus; Tomás Luis da Victoria - Vidi speciosam; Francisco Guerrero - Virgo prudentissima; Sebastián de Vivanco - Magnificat octavi toni.

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