United Kingdom Tavener, Pärt, Delago, Vasks, Rachmaninov: VOCES8; O/Modernt Chamber Orchestra / Hugo Ticciati (violin/director) with Manu Delago (hangdrum). Wigmore Hall, London, 8.12.2021. (CC)
Tavener – Mother of God, here I stand
Vivaldi – Magnificat in G minor, RV 610
Manu Delago – Wandering Around
Pärt – Nunc dimittis
Pärt – Silouan’s Song
Vasks – Lonely Angel
Rachmaninov – All-Night Vigil, Op.37: ‘Bogoroditse Devo’
Mann Delago – Circadian
Tavener – Mother of God, here I stand
It is a busy time for VOCES8: this Wigmore Hall concert precedes a North American tour, meanwhile their online seasonal celebration LIVE from London Christmas continues apace. Here they were heard with orchestra (O/Modernt) and with guest artist Manu Delago on hangdrum in a short concert that held many riches.
VOCES8 recorded John Tavener’s ‘Mother of God, here I stand’ (the second piece from Five Anthems from The Veil of the Temple) on their album LUX in its purely choral version. A setting of Lermentov, the piece seems to float, away from accepted notions of time. The concert began with a dramatic gesture: the orchestra were alone on stage, and the first section was performed by the voices at the back of the hall; the second part, halfway up the aisles and the final section at the front but not yet on the stage, with the orchestra providing ‘interludes’. VOCES8’s typically clean-cut sound suits this music perfectly: soprano slurs are ever impeccably judged, perfectly in tune; a magical pppp from the orchestra before the final ‘Numb, joyless and desolate on earth’ was highly memorable.
It is quite a move from the ‘holy minimalism’ of Tavener to Vivaldi, the G minor Magnificat. The move was felt all the more viscerally as the two works segued into each other. This is a most expressive work, with Vivaldi using some lovely descending chromatic lines to expressive effect. Nice to have solo spots for singers of VOCES8 of course, unsurprisingly sung with strength and aplomb. But it was the way that singers and instrumentalists captured the power of Vivaldi’s music that was remarkable, nowhere more so than in the ‘Et misericordia ejus’ (not just notable for those descending lines), while the ensuing ‘Fecit potentiam’ was as resolute as the music demands, the octave statements of the music in diametric opposition to the harmonic play of the ‘Misericordia’. The duet of the ‘Esurientes’ (Molly Noon and Barnaby Smith) was perfectly together, vocally beautiful. Remarkable.
Manu Delago certainly seems to have a strong following, if audience reaction was anything to go by. He recorded the 2011 piece Wandering Around on his album Silver Kobalt. The sound of the hangdrum is remarkable (nothing humdrum about it); the closest sonic likeness I can find is Balinese percussion. The longing of Wandering Around certainly seemed to fit in the programme perfectly, the Near Eastern-sounding melodies evocative, beautiful. Arvo Pärt’s choral Nunc dimittis did make for huge contrast, ethereal, with a faultless transition to the words ‘Quia viderunt oculi mei’. Hypnotic and heartfelt, this performance was crowned by the utter purity of the soprano line (Andrea Haines and Molly Noon).
A piece for string orchestra opened the second part of the concert: more Pärt, his short Silouan’s Song, ‘My soul yearns after the Lord’ (1991), which draws its inspiration from the religious text by the Russian mystic Father Silouan (1866-1938). The text talks of surrendering oneself to the god of one’s choosing (the Christian one in this instance), the work’s climax reflecting the anguish of humankind’s railing against this. It is a powerful work, well performed here. It morphed beautifully into a piece for violin and string orchestra Lonely Angel (1999, revised 2006), a reworking of the fifth movement of Pēteris Vasks’s Fifth String Quartet. Vasks experienced a vision of an angel, apparently, and this piece was his response: the violin soars above the gentle ululating bed of strings just as the purported angel watches humans from above. A response to the pain of the human condition, the work brings solace: all credit to Hugo Ticciati for sustaining Vasks’s unending melody so poignantly.
Rachmaninov’s ‘Bogoritse devo’ also appears on VOCES8’s LUX album. It is, indeed, shot through with internal light. True, VOCES8’s sound is not grounded by one of those brilliant, inimitable Russian ultra-sub-contra-basses, but it does float magnificently, and the performance unfolded perfectly, lines seeming to unravel with a perfectly natural momentum.
Circadian is the title track of Delago’s album of that name. The music here is more of a minimalist nature, a 24-note cycle mirroring the body’s 24-hour cycle. The idea fits minimalism perfectly – a pattern that is set up (24 hours) but subtly moulded or altered in some way by the individual’s own variations. Delago is a clear virtuoso on his chosen instrument; the result is utter beauty.
Finally, full circle with Tavener’s Mother of God, here I stand, this time with choir, orchestra and hangdrums. A remarkable, near-transcendent experience.
VOCES8’s North American tour launches Friday 10 December in Richmond, Virginia, moving on to concerts in Washington, Houston, London (the Canadian one); they return to London (UK) on 13 January.