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The Cardinall’s Musick
Cadogan Hall, London
ASIDE from its entertainment value, this uplifting evening of crystal clear choral music turned out to be a fascinating “compare and contrast” exercise, setting the multifaceted 16th-century polyphony of William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons against the more minimalist material of two modern composers, Arvo Part and John Tavener.
Although the eight wonderful voices of Cardinall’s Musick – alternating between Byrd and Part in the first half and Gibbons and Tavener in the second – were the main means of bringing any differences to light, extra enlightenment came from helpful, relaxed comments by the ensemble’s director, Andrew Carwood, who contrasted the “visceral” quality of Byrd’s arrangements with the “coolness” of Part’s, while pitting the “extraordinary denseness” of Gibbons against the “simple spiritual language” of Tavener.
Although, of course, this was not a competition to find out which of the four composers is “best,” it has to be said that Tavener’s mystical compositions – including Apolytikion of St Nicholas, Funeral Ikos and Love Bade Me Welcome – shone rather more brightly than the others, and that Part’s spartan works, typified by the soulful bareness of Most Holy Mother of God, came ahead of the renaissance men.
Perhaps that’s because the bare, modernist sensibilities of Part and Tavener sit more easily with our own. Naturally, they feel fresher and more original at this juncture in time.
But the fact that Byrd and Gibbons still have so much power to move and inspire, and that their music sits so easily with material that followed more than 400 years later, shows the strength of the sacred choral threads they laid down so long ago.
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