Sunday, 27 April 2014

Canonisations of John XXIII and John Paul II

The Sistine Chapel choir are sounding rather good - listen to the Offertory motet.

BBC Sunday Worship from OLEM Cambridge

Recorded this morning at Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge.  Details here.  Available for listening until Saturday 3 May 2014.

OLEM Cambridge, taken by this blog's author in mid-April 2014

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Hon. Mr. Barry O'Keefe AM QC - Requiescat in pace

Mr O'Keefe's funeral will be held at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney on 2 May 2014 - the place where he attended the early morning daily Mass.

Rest eternal grant unto him O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him.  

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ - London, Cambridge, Paris and Solesmes

At the Catholic Cathedral in Westminster, the Passion was sung in German (Matthaus Passion of Bach on 2 April), then English (Good Friday 3pm) according to the Roman tone and T L de Victoria's setting.  At King's College Cambridge (C of E), it was sung in German (also the Matthaus Passion of Bach on April 15), then Latin (Good Friday service at 10.30 am), the John Passion in an abbreviated format but using the traditional Roman tone.  In Paris it was sung in German (Johannes Passion of Bach).  In Solesmes it was sung in Latin (Matthew Passion on Palm Sunday).

I was blessed to be able to attend all these concerts/services.  Each was beautiful, dramatic and spiritually significant, though in different ways.  

Time will not permit me to do any more than summarise each occasion, as follows.

First the concerts.  

The Westminster Cathedral performance of the Matthuas Passion was special indeed.  Just yesterday, after Easter Sunday Mass at Westminster, I picked up a copy of the May edition of Oremus, the Cathedral's excellent magazine, and was most surprised to read that this was the Cathedral Choir's first attempt at Bach's great masterpiece.  The Choir sang particularly well, and the baroque orchestra assembled for the occasion played with authority.  Of the soloists, particular mention must go to the Evangelist, the incomparable James Gilchrist.  Star power doesn't necessarily guarantee a great performance, but in this case, Gilchrist's magical singing seemed wonderfully to galvanise the other soloists, choir and orchestra.  The other soloists (who with the exception of David Soar singing Christus were all taken from the Choir) were all very strong, and particular credit must go to the three or so choristers who took on significant solo parts.  They sang with an impressively high degree of polish and conviction and maturity.  I was reminded of one of Nickolaus Harnoncourt's many performance of the Johannes Passion - from the Catholic Cathedral in Graz, Austria, where the singing of the boy trebles is unmatched - and of Gustav Leonhardt's performance of the Matthaus passion.  

Martin Baker's direction was spot on, with each movement flowing apparently effortlessly into the next, and the evening was a splendid combination of the musical and the spiritual.

In Paris, the Orchestra of the 18th Century (founded by Frans Bruggen) and Cappella Amsterdam gave a riveting account of the John Passion of Bach at Église Saint-Roch.  Frans Bruggen was to have directed the performance, but he was taken ill and Daniel Reuss (about whom I have previously blogged) took command. The highlights were certainly the orchestra and choir - you'll be hard pressed to find better in the world - both of which were dynamic, homogeneous and completely attuned to Reuss's conducting.  The Evangelist took about 10 minutes to find his feet, but once he had, we were treated to a dramatic and tonally very appealing narration.  The other soloists were a mixed bag.  Christus sang well enough, but seemed to lack presence on stage - or perhaps, lacked the necessary aura of tragedy that befits the part.  Some of the other soloists also were no more than adequate given the occasion - very good by most measures, but when alongside a truly great orchestra and choir, there was a slight mismatch.  Disappointing especially was the alto, who sang  both Von den stricken and Es ist vollbracht.  The singing seemed to lack any emotional depth, and both pieces were beset by problems of projection.  I had a seat near to the stage, but I would be surprised if anyone further than 15 rows back would have heard her.  Perhaps I just wished we had a counter tenor like Scholl or Bowman, or an alto like Sara Mingardo or Bernada Fink.   

The stand-out soloist was the wonderful Belgian soprano Amaryllis Dieltiens. In the second video below, see especially her account of Zerfließe, mein Herz, from 55.55.

Listen to the whole concert here (this is the performance from Utrecht a few days after the Paris concert, but same performers & conductor).  Download the programme (German with Dutch translation, but useful for the performer details).

For a great performance see below video by La Petite Bande (uploaded by same).  A young Andreas Scholl sings utterly superbly.  One of the finest Es ist vollbrachts you're like to hear (go to 1.16.08).

The Matthaus Passion at King's College was a choral and orchestral tour de force.  It was the most "star-studded" performance, which as noted above does not guarantee a special performance.  But on this occasion, the King's College Choir, Academy of Ancient Music and a stellar cast of soloists including Andreas Scholl came together for an (almost) flawless, dramatically persuasive and musically sublime performance under the steady direction of Stephen Cleobury.  Let's get the "almost" out of the way first.  The Evangelist for Part 1 never really found his feet.  He was replaced for Part 2 by Thomas Hobbs (an announcement was made as to the reason for the switch - most likely to some unfortunate illness of the original Evangelist - but I could not make it out).  Although unfortunate for the original Evangelist, the fact is that the substitution improved the balance of the performance considerably - Thomas Hobbs not merely coping with his additional parts, but giving as fine a narration as you are likely to hear at present.  I imagine he is a regular Evangelist.  In short, part 2 was a faultless display of period instrument playing, choral and solo singing, and the end result was a performance easily as good as the celebrated performance at King's in the mid 1990s, with Michael Chance amongst others. What a special experience.

As for the services:
  • Palm Sunday was a good time to be at a particular Abbey of Benedictine Monks! It is one of only two times in the year that members of the public are permitted into the gardens at Solesmes (for the procession).  And Solesmes in Spring is one of the most beautiful places to be.  
  • Good Friday morning at King's (10.30 am) was the Passion service, beginning with Allegri's Miserere.  I was sitting in the Ante Chapel, where the bulk of the choir sang this piece from.  My word they have a good crop of singers at present.  The Passion of St John was shortened - but I nearly fell of my seat when I heard the narrator chant "Passio Domini Nostri Iesu Christi Secundum Ioannem" - apart from Solesmes, I have never heard this in a Roman Catholic Church before. Obviously the Anglican King's sees some value in the original Latin chant.  Much credit.  The singing was slightly unconventional, in that the narrator had a distinctively baritone sound, sounding almost like Christ.  
  • At Westminster Cathedral, the more conventional mode of singing the Passion was adopted (narrator tenor, Christ bass, other high tenor).  But it was in English when I was sure it would be in Latin (if not here, then where?)