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Christmas Choral Concerts

Birtwistle, Ockeghem, Mason, Stravinsky etc

The Octandre Ensemble etc/Jonathan Hargreaves

St Lawrence Jewry 8 December 2012

This must go down as one of the most daringly enterprising concerts of the season.

Some 70+ people came to enjoy a tough, eclectic programme which harked back to the wonderful times in which it was possible for the younger Birtwistle to curate, free of constraint, a summer season at Queen Elizabeth Hall which lives on in memory as a high point of cultural London before South Bank summers went into "Meltdown" !

We were introduced to Christian Mason's 2nd version of Fragments for Eternity, work in progress which used spaces in the large church with flair, splendid mezzo Sarah Dacey up in the organ loft and finishing with mock serious bells processed around the audience; a "much longer one" is promised for the future...

Earlier Sarah Dacey had revived Holt's 4 Songs, with violinist Aisha Orasbayeva, well remembered for processing Berio at Caféparty-atmosphere Oto along a long line of music stands!

Items by Sir Harrison Birtwistle [L] included a revival of his Monody for Corpus Christi (1960), harder listening now that 50/60s modernism is tending to recede into history.

His rebarbative Machaut Hoquetus David and a chamber ensemble version of Ogkeghem's Ut heremita Solus were welcome revivals; strong stuff consumed with the help of medieval fancy dress amongst the audience and mulled wine in the party atmosphere of the long interval !

A sequence of tiny miniatures by Stravinsky and Birtwistle (1959/1971) completed this feast of memories.

Peter Grahame Woolf




Earlier in the week, Thursday proved to be not quite the right day for squeezing pomegranates or for Exaudi's Song of Solomon programme of Victoria to Skempton and Weeks.

The sequence "flaming with erotic and spiritual desire, burgeoning with poetic luxuriance and adventure" is surely a summer programme?

Temple Church, sparsely attended, was bitterly cold...

Exaudi is noted for "the radical edges of contemporary music" but neither did Skempton's minimal miniatures nor four of Weeks' canonic motets really fill the bill (c.f. "a sort of dark madrigalian quality to the individual part writing" in Musical Pointers' review of Exaudi in 2009 !).

There were no words and translations in the programme (consisting mostly of full page adverts) and James Weeks' enthusiastic spoken introductions failed to really connect with the delectable music as sung by this small, expert group of eight or less singers.

Not one of Temple Music's greater days.

Peter Grahame Woolf