Apollo5’s LOVE from London is an appropriately lovely, heart-warming Valentine’s Day concert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom LIVE from London SpringLOVE from London: Apollo5 (Emily Owen, Clare Stewart [sopranos], Josh Cooter, Oli Martin-Smith [tenors], Greg Link [bass])  Livestreamed from VOCES8 Centre, London, 14.2.2021. (CC)


Emily DickensAve Maris Stella
William ByrdCivitas Sancti Tui
DickensAve Maris Stella II (arr. Cooter)
GuerreroVirgen Sancta
TallisTunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter: Psalm 2
Paul SmithLost Innocence
DickensAve Maris Stella III (arr. Cooter)
Fraser WilsonAye, here’s to you
WhitacreThis Marriage
David FawcettThe Good-morrow
FinziHaste on, My joys!
McGlynnWhere all Roses Go

The second concert in VOCES8’s Spring season was given by Apollo5, based on their latest album, Where all Roses Go. A pre-concert film reveals close links to VOCES8, including a member who came through from the VOCES8 Scholarship programme. Apollo5’s Christmas concert as part of the VOCES8 series was a success (review click here); if anything, this was more stimulating still.

Emily Dickens’s chant Ave Maris Stella has a beautiful timeless quality to it, Clare Stewart’s soprano positively luminous. It led beautifully into Byrd’s Civitas Sancti Tui (… ‘Civitas sancti facta et deserta’ / Your holy city has become a wilderness). Dickens is a former member of VOCES8; Josh Cooter’s arrangements in what is labelled Ave Maris Stella II and III above add drones and then extend it onwards. A rather nice touch is to use a modern chant melody, the perfect representation of Apollo5’s trademark blending or juxtaposition of eras.

A song of praise to the mother Mary, Ave Maris Stella reminds us of the place of the Divine Feminine in Christian mythology. Josh Cooter’s harmonisation does add an extra layer to the chant, maintaining the integrity of the original. Hearing the single line blossom into a complex sacred villancico for Christmastide, Guerrero’s Virgen Sancta (Holy Virgin; the text is in Spanish) sounded entirely natural, the five voices enabling purity while maintaining the ability to convey richness. First published in 1589, it is a masterwork (as is, incidentally, just about every work by Guerrero I have ever heard …).

The Tallis (well-known through Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia) was heard as a pair with Paul Smith’s new piece, Lost Innocence. It makes for a seamless transition, Smith’s pungent departures from Tallis’s palette a natural extension. The text here is by W. H. Auden (‘O weep, child, weep’). Solos by Emily Owen seemed to speak particularly emotively; straight to the heart, one might say.

The third iteration of the Ave Maris Stella chant, (‘Virgo singularis,’; Virgin all excelling) is incredibly interior, and somewhat more complex than the previous two; again, it finds a partner in a specific piece, this time Fraser Wilson’s Aye, here’s to you to a text by Carol Ann Duffy. There is something of an hypnotic sway to Wilson’s setting, whose text meditates on the thistle and the rose (both of which can draw blood).

Eric Whitacre’s This Marriage is justifiably famous; its effectiveness lies in its simplicity, itself bounced off the structure of Rumi’s poem. A marriage made in heaven; one might say. David Fawcett takes on a similar poetic genius in setting John Donne’s The Good-morrow, part of Donne’s extensive outpourings of love. Fawcett’s setting, written expressly for Apollo5, is eminently musical and often beautiful, but I remain unsure if it carries the sheer depth of Donne’s poem; and therefore whether it adds anything to it. I felt little of the immensity that makes the lovers’ room ‘an everywhere’. Again, it was heard as part of a pair, this time leading to Finzi’s lovely, jaunty Haste on, my joys! (text Robert Bridges), performed with pinpoint accuracy by Apollo5.

Finally, the title track Where all roses Go by Michael McGlynn (who runs Anúna, another group who participated in VOCES8’s Christmas Festival, review click here), which takes as its basis Francis Ledwidge’s Lament for Thomas McDonagh. Poignantly beautiful and heard here in the most finely attuned performance imaginable, it was a fine crowning of a lovely, heart-warming concert. One encore: Only You (Yazoo, arr. VOCES8), showcasing the talents of tenor Oli Martin-Smith.

A backdrop of trellised roses and some atmospheric candle-lit shots all added to the Valentine’s Day atmosphere. Apollo5’s trademark mix of cherished repertoire with modern works is perfectly engineered in their programmes and I for one look forward to encountering their new disc.

Colin Clarke

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