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September 19, 2013 5:15 pm
From cathedrals and churches, to abbeys and concert halls, The Sixteen’s annual “Choral Pilgrimage” travels to parts of the country most other musical organisations never reach. Taking in 35 venues over nine months, the 2013 tour can claim to be delivering spirituality to the masses.
On Wednesday, about two-thirds of the way round the itinerary, The Sixteen dropped in on London. This year’s programme is one of their most concentrated, juxtaposing two composers, the 16th-century Palestrina and 21st-century James Macmillan, with only Allegri’s ever-popular Miserere to break their dual focus.
Anybody who bought tickets for the Allegri alone will have been in for a surprise. Following recent research, Harry Christophers has gone back to what is believed to be the less sensational original that Allegri wrote, omitting the famous high Cs for soprano (though, to make sure nobody stormed out asking for their money back, he produced a compromise version that threw in a couple anyway). The result is a more personal piece of music, differently ornamented in each section and with a semi-chorus of half a dozen singers for contrast – a shame, though, that they were not sited up in the gallery at Kings Place to add a mystical sense of distance.
Next to the newly-complex Allegri, the Palestrina items offered shiningly clean, unadorned lines. The Sixteen offered perfectly poised singing in the Stabat mater for eight voices and extracts from the Missa regina caeli, though Christophers’ performances of this repertoire can be over-lovingly moulded.
The most striking parts of the evening all came from James Macmillan. No other British choral composer today links back so strongly to his Catholic Renaissance forebears: the simplicity of his Dominus dabit benignitatem and the Baroque ornamentation of Videns dominus nicely complemented the Palestrina pieces they followed. Best of all was his Miserere , the outstanding work of the evening. Complex in design, at one moment little more than plainchant, at the next racked with painfully emotional harmonies, it shows how masterful Macmillan has become as a choral composer. The Miserere is dedicated to Christophers and The Sixteen gave a memorably intense performance of it.
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