Review: The Sixteen; Bury St Edmunds Festival; St Edmundsbury Cathedral; Monday May 21

As the first ethereal sounds floated up to the Gothic arches and vaulted ceiling of St Edmundsbury Cathedral a sixteenth century soundscape took over from the here and now, and with utter concentration a full cathedral of listeners experienced the magic of the Renaissance.

That a concert of motets and extracts from masses by Josquin, Brumel and Lassus should attract such a crowd undoubtedly says less about the esoteric musical tastes of our valiant Burians (for whom such composers are unlikely to be the daily diet) but a great deal more about their recognition that, from time to time, we are fortunate enough to experience something special – the best in the world coming to our very doorstep. The Sixteen, who also packed out the place the last time they came to the Festival, are expert practitioners of a specialist art, with a commitment which sets them apart. The blend and balance, the extraordinary precision, the delicious tone-quality, the sheer delight in hearing such great voices working together – these are the reasons why the audiences come. The music appeals on different levels – you can just let it wrap itself around you like a comfortable blanket, or, if you have the wherewithal, you can delight in the myriad musical devices so cleverly used by the composers of long ago – the contrapuntal elegance, the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic twists, the word-painting, the unexpectedly audacious moment which seems far ahead of its time, the atmosphere of a long-gone age. This is what the magnificent ‘Sixteen’ brought to Bury St Edmunds last Monday, and, like so many, I was glad to have been there to experience it.

Wynn Rees

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