The Glories of Renaissance Polyphony Review

Poster for the Elgar Chorale concert on 16 October 2016
October 2016

This is the review of “The Glories of Renaissance Polyphony” performed by The Elgar Chorale at the Church of the Ascension in Malvern on 15th October 2016.

Given the competition offered by “Strictly Come Dancing”, it was a pleasant surprise to see the Church full for this programme of music by Italian and English composers of the Renaissance. The basis for each half was movements of the Mass, interpolated with Motets. The first half was based on Victoria’s “O quam gloriosum” and from the outset, the choir displayed the influence that Piers Maxim has had since taking over as Musical Director. There was an excellent balance between the parts and a transformation in the vibrant, unified sound. In particular, the men had a richness and warmth in tone and the ladies projected the words well and articulation was very good. This contributed to performances which were strong and assured. Maxim played three short movements on the organ which were beautifully executed with some appropriate colours to reflect the mood and character of the music. The first half ended with “Ecce beatam lucem” a 40-part motet by Alessandro Striggio. For this, the Elgar Chorale was joined by singing colleagues. The augmented choir positioned themselves around the front and sides of the Church. Matthew Kelley, senior organ scholar at Malvern Priory, provided excellent supportive organ accompaniment. The overall effect was really quite splendid and a remarkable feat of precision on behalf of the conductor, accompanist and singers.

The programme in the second half of the concert moved to England, taking for its basis Byrd’s Mass for 5 voices. The opening motet by Tallis, “If ye love me” displayed a clear, balanced sound with well-judged tempo. However, the singing in parts of the Mass seemed to lack the confidence and assuredness of the first half and there were some tentative moments. Maxim’s organ solo comprised Three Antiphons, which displayed his ability to register and perform music of this period with panache.

A second 40-part motet concluded the concert -Tallis’ “Spem in alium”. As with the Striggio, the voices were positioned around the audience. After a long and demanding programme, this was a particularly challenging setting, but Maxim managed to guide his singers to a happy conclusion. We look forward to Elgar Chorale’s next performance, which will be “Messiah” in Pershore Abbey on 4th March 2017.

JAMES MORGAN

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