It has been a wonderful past 2 weeks, visiting London and Berlin, and experiencing music and performances by some of the best musicians in the world – the Tallis Scholars, Cardinall’s Musick, Deutsche Oper Berlin and last but not the least, the one and only Berlin Philharmonic.
As part of the Christmas festival by St. John’s Smith Square, of which Stephen Layton is the artistic director, there were performances by various groups, including the Choir of King’s College, Polyphony, and of course the aforementioned Tallis Scholars and Cardinall’s Musick. For the Tallis Scholars and their conductor Peter Phillips, it was also the concluding concert of their 40th anniversary, and marked the 99th performance for them in 2013. It was amazing to be able to finally hear them live after listening to so many of their recordings. They have superb technique, incredible control over their voices – no sliding to notes, and crystal clear projection – and sang with incredible restraint as well. Not that it was a bad thing. I guess the overall blend of the ensemble was more important, but I did feel a bit of disconnect between them and the audience, maybe because their voices were confined to the boundaries of the stage. Of all the pieces, I somehow only remember their performance of Bruckner’s Ave Maria, and their encore piece “The Lamb”, by the late John Tavener. The latter was done with superb blend – how they split into different parts and return to unison pitch perfect – and is probably the best performance of the piece I have heard, though it was taken at a slightly faster tempo than what I was used to. In all, a marvelous concert that I have had the opportunity of experiencing.
While the Tallis Scholars offers a more controlled and tight performance, the concert by Cardinall’s Musick, together with their conductor Andrew Carwood, had a freer sound, and a less serious atmosphere (mainly because of Andrew Carwood’s entertaining but insightful introduction to pieces). It was quite amazing how the sound is so different, even though there were some overlapping singers between Cardinall’s Musick and the Tallis Scholars. Additionally, there were some faces I remembered as well from Hilliard Ensemble and the Sixteen. These people must be very busy! I think Andrew Carwood mentioned at the beginning of the concert that some singers were replaced because they were sick or something. Anyway back to the music. As mentioned earlier, they had a less restrained sound, and allowed themselves to fill the hall. Maybe this could be due to the repertoire? It was a more enjoyable concert to watch because it was clear that they were enjoying the music-making (and probably unleashing their voices as well). Also, I was more familiar with their repertoire – which included Poulenc’s and Palestrina’s settings of “Hodie Christus natus est”, Dering’s “Factum est silentium”, and Victoria’s “Missa O magnum mysterium” – as compared to that by the Tallis Scholars. Just a little sidetrack, I thought the younger tenor (or seemingly younger one) in the ensemble could afford to project his voice even more because it was quite difficult to hear his part when he was singing the main melodies, and there was quite a contrast between his voice and that of Steven Harrold’s. Nevertheless, it was an amazing concert too!
Well, I shall talk about the performances in Berlin in another post!