Review: Les Siecles/London Voices, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape, June

Les Siecles, part of this year's Aldeburgh Festival

Les Siecles, part of this year's Aldeburgh Festival - Credit: Archant

In their second appearance at this year’s festival Les Siecles and their conductor, Francois Xavier-Roth, paired two ostensibly contrasting composers – JS Bach and Steve Reich. As in all good concert planning, however, links are pointed up and illuminated, as happened here.

Reich’s fertile imagination has produced a number of compositions in which the focus is on rhythmic possibilities which occur when simultaneous lines of music move in and out of synchronization with each other. In ‘Vermont Counterpoint’, beautifully played and projected by Marion Ralincourt, ten pre-recorded tracks of alto flute, flute and piccolo are heard with the soloist adding her own part on the three instruments at different times. A fascinating aural and visual experience.

In the late 1970’s Reich made an intensive study of Hebrew, the Torah and cantillation and one of the results was Tehillim, a setting of psalm verses for female voices and ensemble. It is different, vigorous and arresting, opening with Reich’s characteristic clapping and percussive figures. The four female singers were crisp and articulate and Xavier –Roth maintained the momentum and tension in the first two sections. The quieter, more relaxed third movement featured a most effective vocal duet and some haunting wind sounds while the finale returned to the more extrovert style and culminated in the joyous sounds of bells accompanying the vocal lines.

The second half contained another ‘religious’ work, Bach’s splendid Magnificat, one of his shorter but more immediate and compelling compositions. London Voices, five to a part, sang the highly demanding vocal lines with precision and elan, punching out the repeated Omnes, Omnes and producing a radiant blaze in the final choruses. The strings were particularly nimble in Deposuit and the wind played with depth and intensity throughout. The various soloists all distinguished themselves with unforced clarity and sympathetic portrayal of the words. When called upon, trumpets and drums gave an added frisson to the performance and, in more senses than one, the evening ended on a high note.

Gareth Jones

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