group a disservice. They are more akin to the whip-cracking Indiana Jones as
their performance of sections from a newly discovered and reconstructed
Peterhouse partbook for The Friends of Chamber Music was just as thrilling as
any Hollywood adventure.
By Lee Hartman, KCMetropolis
What does it take to make old music sound new and important today? I think it
takes skilled, expressive, informed performers dedicated to timeless repertoire
and an audience willing to be transported. Such was the case on Saturday’s
glorious concert by Blue Heron at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for
The Friends of Chamber Music. Scott Metcalfe’s ensemble of thirteen talented
singers puts the sounds of the Peterhouse partbook on fine display.
The Renaissance in England was time of great religious upheaval, with
Catholicism and the Anglican Church battling it out for superiority depending on
the monarch’s personal and political whims. With each new wave of fervor, the
opposition’s manuscripts and people alike were burned. So much was lost during
this time, but a few enterprising and daring people hid their manuscripts away.
It is from one of these hidden tomes, the Peterhouse partbook, that Blue Heron
performed “Music for an English Cathedral.”
The program was structured like a typical Mass Ordinary with the Gloria,
Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei all getting their fair share; the Kyrie was
missing as was typical of 16th-century English
Masses. Interspersed were two antiphons. Nicholas Ludford’s Ave cujus
conception opened the evening. The stanzas of sopranos with the basses were
exceptionally well sung. Occasionally the countertenors would split their
pitches on their entrances but they quickly recovered. The penultimate stanza
lost energy in all the melismas.
A Sarum plainchant, Deus creator omnium, substituted for the Kyrie.
The countertenor onset seemed to speak before the ensemble’s unison sound but
that may have been my position in the hall. The chant was performed in a
bouncier manner than I am accustomed to but it did not detract from the
precision of the pitches and unison line.
Robert Jones’s Gloria and Credo from Missa Spes nostra followed. The tenor
timbre was lost in the Gloria with the altos overpowering it. The final line
“Jesu Christe, cum sancto spiritu in Gloria dei patris. Amen.” was harmonically
more complex than the preceding lines, recalling Robert White’s Lamentations.
The Credo explored different combinations of voice parts, the most striking of
which was the three inner voices on “passus et sepultus est.”
Robert Hunt’s Stabat mater dolorosa was a stunning piece but all too
often the sopranos were too piercing and intonation was off at cadence points.
Metcalfe showed some weightier attacks but the ensemble did not always respond
to his direction. Hunt’s piece contained a magical bit of text painting during
“In nobis plantet firme grata,” in which there is a lovely blossom of sound in
uprising lines, like a sprouting flower.
Jones’ Sanctus and Agnus Dei closed the program. Both were expertly performed
and ravishing works, though they did cheat with only about one-third of the
group executing the final consonants. Blue Heron is an ensemble to watch. Their
captivating performance and championing of heady-yet-approachable fare is worthy
of accolades and attention.
Read the article online at http://kcmetropolis.org/issue/october-16-2013/article/renaissance-rediscovery