Tenebrae’s small gem of a recital was balm to the soul

United KingdomUnited Kingdom City of Derry International Choir Festival: Tenebrae / Nigel Short (conductor). Performance from St Stephen Walbrook, London, reviewed from a live stream on 24.10.2020. (CC)

Tenebrae (c) Sim Canetty-Clarke

di LassusMusica Dei donum
Allegri – Miserere
Reger – Geistliche Gesänge:Der Mensch lebt und bestehet’ ; ‘Nachtlied’
J. S. Bach – Motets: ‘Komm, Jesu, komm’, BWV 229; ‘Singet dem Herrn’, BWV 225

Given instead of the concert Tenebrae was due to perform at the Derry Festival, this was a 45-minute recital of beautifully chosen choral music in a glorious venue. Shot through with light, the filming at St Stephen Walbrook (by Martin Kendrick of Knight Classical) seemed to emphasise the radiance of Orlando di Lasso’s six-voice Musica Dei donum (Music is a gift from God), a text also set famously by Clemens non Papa and Jacobus Vaet. Lasso’s setting is gloriously expansive, the music unfolding unhurriedly, the perfect foil for Allegri’s famous Miserere. Time first, perhaps, to reflect on the importance of Orlando di Lasso’s music and to remember the stunning performance (and staging) of his Lagrime di San Pietro at the Barbican by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in May 2019 (review click here), and how much we need this music in our lives.

Carefully spaced within the performance area and therefore maximising the effect of Allegri’s Miserere, Tenebrae’s performance was mesmerising, the music kept moving perfectly by Nigel Short, the high Cs perfectly placed.

If there is one criticism of the Reger, it is that there wasn’t enough of it. The discovery of the genius of Max Reger continues with these two songs from the eight Geistliche Gesänge (Sacred Songs) he wrote in 1914. Reger has a reputation for being difficult and austere, but these choral pieces are the ideal mix of complexity of harmony and the emotional, spiritual intensity the texts demand. The shifting, mysterious writing has a unique pull.

Bach and Reger seem linked on a baseline spiritual level, so it is fitting that we have two glorious Bach motets for double choir, to close. The imitations and exchanges between groups in ‘Komm, Jesu, komm’, BWV 229 were an absolute joy, Beautiful to hear the high soprano parts perfectly delivered with a touch of gleam but not a hint of harshness.

But it was the sense of celebration in ‘Singet dem Herrn  ein neues Lied’, a quarter-hour shining jewel of Bach’s immense catalogue of works, that invigorated and inspired, the zing of the repetitions of ‘singet’ like a vitamin shot; music very much for our time, to remind us, the listeners in 2020, that such elevation is and ever will be, available to us. A variegated performance, the constant was the joy in revealing Bach’s machinations, both in terms of counterpoint and in the virtuoso use of double choir.

Of course, Tenebrae’s recording of the Allegri Miserere is available on Signum to explore … but this small gem of a recital was balm to the soul.

Colin Clarke

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