Review: Britten Weekend, The Cardinall’s Musick, Snape, October 25

Snape Maltings Concert Hall

Snape Maltings Concert Hall - Credit: Archant

The vocal group The Cardinall’s Music was formed twenty five years ago with the aim of studying and performing choral music of the Renaissance. In 2010 they concluded their recording of the complete Latin works of William Byrd, for which they received the Gramophone Record of the Year Award.

Naturally, they have a deep and pervasive understanding of this composer and they sang his works with exceptional purity and fervour. In Byrd’s richly polyphonic setting of Ad Dominum cum tribularer the singers produced a sound to rival a cathedral choir, with a brilliant burnish from the sopranos.

The same composer’s Mass Propers for the Epiphany had many wonderful passages, particularly the ending of Surge illuminare, and his Descendit de caelis was performed with great skill and understanding, the voices blending seamlessly together. Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responseries from the same period are somewhat less extrovert but deeply felt and expertly written and Animam meam contained beautifully executed suspensions.

Poulenc’s Quatres motets pour le temps de Noel show all facets of his musical personality, ranging from the serious and sober to the light-hearted and almost coarse. The ensemble moved forward some three hundred and fifty years without difficulty and sang these engaging songs with crisp charm and elan.

Of the composers in the programme, Britten’s vocal music is the most challenging, often spiky and angular and with occasional grating dissonance. Yet it is deeply felt and frequently strikingly effective. His Sacred and Profane is a late work and St Godric’s Hymn is one of its more austere pieces but it held no terrors for the singers.

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In his five Canticles Britten explores new territory and gives highly personal voice to his particular view of religion. The second Canticle relates the story of Abraham and Isaac and conductor Andrew Carwood as Abraham and Caroline Trevor as Isaac gave a finely judged and arresting performance with generally clear diction.

The fourth Canticle, a setting of T.S. Eliot’s well known Journey of the Magi is not easy to bring off but Patrick Craig, Mark Dobell and Robert Evans were thoroughly committed and articulate kings and Alasdair Hogarth provided a secure and appropriately enigmatic accompaniment.

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These accomplished musicians delivered performances of high quality throughout but it was the Byrd that really remained in the memory.

Gareth Jones

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