Review: Jan Garbarek & the Hilliard Ensemble, Bury St Edmunds Festival, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Tuesday May 24

Jan Garbarek & the Hilliard Ensemble, Bury St Edmunds Festival, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Tuesday May 24

The first coming together, in 1993, of a group of distinguished English male singers with a Norwegian saxophonist , must have caused quite stir in the musical world. Some eighteen years later their appearance at the Bury St Edmunds Festival was enough to fill St Edmundsbury Cathedral with an enthusiastic crowd, happy to sit in rapt attention as the five musicians wove their very individual musical magic.

The Hilliard Ensemble sang beautifully, a perfectly balanced quartet of exceptional tonal quality, and as they moved seamlessly from one piece to another Jan Garbarek’s soprano saxophone soared around and above them in improvisatory swirls of melody, somehow blending in creative partnership, a mysterious coalition of distinctive genres that ended up as an entirely complementary and coherent whole.

The building too, the “sixth voice”, played its part, with all five musicians moving around at times, spread apart but musically together; at times too Garbarek paced slowly into the aisles alone, his melodies providing an ethereal overlay to the gentle chanting of the singers’ Armenian hymn music, ancient chants and songs.

The audience, held as if under a spell, seemed barely to breathe, as if the slightest sound would break it, but once the last notes had died away their rapturous applause echoed long and hard in appreciation of a unique musical experience.


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Wynn Rees

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