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This report mixes early, contemporary and 'world' music, heard during the same week in the same London church. It is hoped that specialist visitors to Musical Pointers will not thereby be irritated, and that others may find the juxtaposition interesting, epitomising as it does the variety which is intrinsic to the Spitalfields Festival? Comments welcomed, please!

Choir of St John's College, Cambridge at Shoreditch Church 23 June
Christopher Robinson director Jonathan Vaughn organ

Mass for four voices
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Moeran 7 Songs of springtime
Elgar Go, song of mine
Jonathan Dove In beauty may I walk
Nicholas Maw One foot in Eden still, I stand
Antony Payne Betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross
Judith Weir Ascending into Heaven
Michael Berkeley Ascendit Deus
Lennox Berkeley Motet Regina Coeli

Spitalfields Festival came truly to life for us with the wonderful St John's, Cambridge concert for which we had to hurry from Holborn to Shoreditch after the inaugural concert of the City of London Festival; the festival season is now in full swing! The acoustics of Shoreditch Church proved ideal for this music, and the evident musicianship of the boys was a pleasure to watch as well as to hear. Full words were supplied and there was good light to read them!

Byrd's 4 part Mass was interspersed with delectable organ interludes - it would never have been sung straight through in his time.

The British songs in the second half allowed the choir to show a greater expressive range, but also gave some weight to Michael Berkeley's complaint in The Guardian "When did sacred music become so conservative?" (This problem was dealt with at length in my report of the Cork Festival last year.) Moeran's seven settings of Elizabethan & Jacobean texts were delightful, and in his extended play on Hey nonny nonny he even outdid Tomkins' way with Fa la la. Most challenging was Maw's contribution, but (as with his opera) one does have a feeling that he doggedly sets his text line by line until he reaches the end, without any overall musical scheme. Anthony Payne's piece was for us the most original and Berkeley père's motet as encore showed his skilled craftsmanship.

East to West Shoreditch Church 24th June

6.00 Music of Bali and Java in Europe
The Continuum Ensemble
Douglas Finch piano
Marcus Barcham-Stevens violin
Philip Headlam conductor

Claude Vivier arr John Rea Pulau Dewata
Debussy Pagodes
György Ligeti Piano Etude No 7
Colin McPhee arr Philip Headlam 2 movements from Ceremonial Balinese Music
Lou Harrison Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra
José Evangelista Merapi UK premiere

9.00 Gamelan Sekar Tunjung Setå
Royal College of Music Gamelan
Richard Causton artistic director
John Pawson musical director

The Continuum Ensemble offered a 'concept concert' inspired by the RCM's acquisition of a set of Javanese gamelan instruments which were on display later in the evening; gamelan-inspired items of music by western composers illuminated each other to cumulative satisfaction.

John Rea's arrangement of Vivier sounded close to the real thing. Douglas Finch played pieces by Debussy and Ligeti which demonstrated their indebtedness to the same model. Lou Harrison's Violin Concerto with an orchestra of five percussionists playing assembled and specially constructed instruments in which he had been occupied with Cage was more satisfying in its gamelan simulation than in knowing what to do with the violin solo part, which remained too close to conventional western concerto models; an intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying, hybrid. A decade on, Harrison's Music for Violin & Various Instruments - European, Asian & African solves the problems he was setting himself admirably.

McPhee was the real pioneer in this genre, and his 2 movements from Ceremonial Balinese Music glowed in Philip Headlam's arrangements for piano, harp and vibraphone.

Best of all was José Evangelista's work of 1986, having its belated British premiere with the Spanish/Canadian composer present [pict above]. He thrives on setting limits and most of his music is elaborated monody, Merapi suggested by a volcano obscured by fog and cloud, with its melodic skeleton 'constantly veiled in ornamentation and changes of instruments and register'. A minor masterpiece, and a satisfying end to a great realisation of an intriguing idea; there is a germ of a good thematic CD or DVD here.

José Evangelista's Merapi is available from Canadian Music Centre on CHROMA Arraymusic ART 004and worth trying to find is a delectable collection of music by this always imaginative monodist on Salabert Actuels SCD9102.


Choir of New College Oxford Edward Higginbottom conductor, at Shoreditch Church 26 June 2003

Le Jeune Magnificat; Missa ad Placitum
Du Caurroy Victimae Paschali; Protector in te; Christe qui lux es
Dumont Magnificat
Titelouze Organ solos
Poulenc Salve Regina

Enjoyment of Cambridge St John's Choir prompted us to return to hear their Oxford rivals, known on CD through Robert King's series of Purcell's sacred music for Hyperion. This choir, including extremely small boys, proved very different and immensely exciting, with its eager responsiveness and characterful bright, open tone quality. I was told that Edward Higginbottom encourages the individuality of his singers and that they should discover their own voices. His conducting style is expressive and his manner benign, visible contentment on the platform spreading to the audience.

They have pioneered this rare 16 C & 17 C French repertoire, which is distinguished by inventive design, florid contrapuntal writing and varied management of the vocal forces. Claude Le Jeune (c.1528-1600) was noted for embracing of musique mesunJe (in which the rhythm patterns of the music derive from the accent patterns of the poetic text set - q.v Janacek!) and his Mass for its flexible handling of the available vocal groupings, typically reinforcing images in the text (which we could follow at Shoreditch, c.p. the arrangments for Trinity Baroque's presentation of Le Jeune's music at Wilton's).

The splendid exuberance of the 17 C Henri Dumont (1610-84) brought the first half to a dazzling close with his Magnificat for two choirs and soloists, sometimes in as many as ten polyphonic parts; my only slight reservation was that the organ interludes were less colourful in the chosen registration than the voices. The tone I had sought did come in some pieces by Titelouze which framed Poulenc's Salve Regina interposed in the middle of Le Jeune's Mass; for encore a Geoffrey Bush song represented British choral music and demonstrated the versatility of this choir, which has made some 70 CDs.

The double-choir motets of Eustache Du Caurroy (1549-1609) make a majestic effect of musical spaciousness. Victimae Paschali, one of the most magnificent, is included in New College's CD of that 'unacknowledge master of the French Renaissance' - Collins Classics 14972, which was on sale at the concert.

College choirs evolve more rapidly than symphony orchestras. Checking the personnel listed, it is interesting to see that there is in the present choir only one alto survivor from the 1996 vintage and, of the Higginbottom dynasty, treble Orlando has been succeeded by Felix!

Copies of the Du Caurroy Collins Classics CD are still available and I have been pleased to learn afterwards that all five of the New College Choir's original Collins Classics CDs are now obtainable on the CRD label:

CRD 3499 Byrd: Mass à 4, Lamentations; Tallis: Lamentations
CRD 3517 Lassus: Mass 'Tous les regretz' and motets
CRD 3518 Eustache du Caurroy: Requiem Mass and motets
CRD 3519 Palestrina: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis, Stabat Mater, motets
CRD 3520 Philippe de Monte: Mass 'Si ambulavero' and motets


© Peter Grahame Woolf