Beautifully rhythmically sprung and full of life singing from Apollo5 Live from London at Christmas

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Live from London Christmas – The Crimson Sun: Apollo5 (Penelope Appleyard [soprano], Clare Stewart [mezzo-soprano], Josh Cooter, Oli Marin-Smith [tenors], Greg Link [bass]). Livestreamed from VOCES8 Centre, London, 6.12.2020. (CC)

Apollo5 at VOCES8 Centre (c) Libby Percival

Anon (arr. Fraser Wilson) – Piae Cantiones: ‘Gaudete’
Guerrero – Virgen Sancta
Trad. French (ed. Barrison) – Noël Nouvelet
Josquin des Prez – Gaude Virdo Mater Christi
Trad. Basque (ed. Wilson) – The Angel Gabriel
Guerrero – Oh Virgen, Quand’os Miro
Trad. English (arr. B. Smith) – Coventry Carol
Poulenc – Salve Regina
Trad. French (arr. Gevaert/Greathead) – Les Anges dans nos Compagnes
Leontovych – Carol of the Bells
Campkin – The Crimson Sun
Gershwin (arr. Greenwood) – They Can’t Take That Away from Me
Sherwin (arr. Clements) – A Nightingale Sang
Javits/Springer (arr. Greenwood) – Santa Baby

Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Gjielo – Northern Lights (Voices of Singapore Children’s Choir / Darius Lim, conductor)

Also based in the VOCES8 Centre, Apollo5 is an a cappella vocal group that, as part of Live from London Christmas, offered a programme that extended from Josquin to Christmas standards. Arrangers Fraser Wilson, Barnaby Smith (of VOCES8) and Matt Greenwood have created incredibly imaginative arrangements, while the programme also featured a contemporary carol, Alexander Campkin’s The Crimson Sun.

Nice to have a tambourine with the delicious rawness of the anonymous ‘Gaudete’, taken from a 1581 book of Finnish and Swedish songs, here beautifully rhythmically sprung and full of life. In the louder passages, it was amazing to think there are only five singers: no danger of a lack of dynamic range here.

The diversity of the programme was carefully calibrated. The Guerrero Virgen Sancta was as magnificently mystical as one could hope for, a stand-out performance of unhurried integrity, internally aglow, while a vocal drone underpinned the famous 15th-century French carol, Noel Nouvelet, a performance shot through with a sense of melancholy,

The sheer joy of Josquin des Prez’s Gaude Virgo was palpable; this will actually be Apollo5’s Christmas single (available for download click here).

Moving to the Virgin Mary, an archangel appears to her in the traditional Basque carol The Angel Gabriel (performed in English here in Fraser Wilson’s arrangement, specifically made for Apollo5), the verses steadily increasing in volume and body (with some fabulous soprano contributions from Penelope Appleyard). Cadences were beautifully negotiated, too. Perhaps, though, it was the purity of expression in Guerrero’s O Virgen, Quand’os Miro that was most impressive.

Barnaby Smith’s arrangement of the Coventry Carol endows the familiar piece with real profundity – all credit to the firm bass of Greg Link here, grounding the almost medieval-sounding lines above.

Moving to late Poulenc, and the deliciously spiced harmonies of Salve Regina, and how effective Apollo5 made the sudden exchange of octaves; lovely contrast came in the well-known Les Anges dans nos Compagnes (you would recognise the Gloria instantly). Mykola Leontovych’s Carol of the Bells featured in the film Home Alone; it became a virtuoso piece for vocal ensemble here, the joy perfectly captured (as were the bell sounds).

The programme title was inspired by the first stanza of The Crimson Sun by Alexander Campkin (the Christmas single last year from Apollo5), a slowly evolving sonic sunrise symbolising Christ’s birth after a meditation on the setting sun.

The final set allowed the group to let its hair down: the Gershwin arranged by Matt Greenwood, with lovely solos from the mezzo Clare Stewart and a shedload of vocally percussive effects. A lovely intro to A Nightingale Sang (arranged by Jim Clements) led to a beautifully reflective version. The second Greenwood arrangement was Santa Baby, sleek as can be.

The ‘extra’ is from a choir set up in 2019, now over 200 singers involved, the Singapore Children’s Choir under Darius Lim, appearing under the ‘Young Performers Spotlight’. Ola Gjeilo is a friend of VOCES8, his Northern Lights heard in a simply beautiful performance in a radiant cathedral-like acoustic of Chijmes Hall, Singapore. One of the best Children’s Choirs I have heard, this was a vibrant performance of a piece that seeks to reflect the beauty of the northern lights via a Latin text, ‘Pulchra est amica mea’ (Thou are beautiful, my love).

Next up in the VOCES8 Live from London Christmas is The Tallis Scholars on December 12.

Colin Clarke

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