Contemplations at Easter
Director JanJoost van Elburg
Chamber organ Steven Hollas, Violoncello Henrik Persson, Violone Jan Spencer
Easter Monday 25 April 2011 6.30pm
St John the Baptist Church, Wellington TA21 8RF
REVIEW submitted by John Young
“Stabat Mater: Contemplations at Easter” was the title given to the Blackdowns Early Music Projects’ concert held in St John’s Church, Wellington on Easter Monday 2011. Considered by many in the audience as the gilding of their Easter, this concert took its place in a succession of carefully planned and beautifully performed annual events which continue to attract a loyal, discerning (and growing ) following.
This year’s programme brought together the music of three composers who, although born in different countries at different times, all occupied important posts at the Spanish court. One of the delights of BEMP concerts is encountering rarely heard music and being introduced to the music of unfamiliar composers. This year the great find was a twelve-part setting of the Mass by Philippe Rogier (1560 – 1596), maestro di capella at the court of Philip II of Spain. Missa domine Dominus Noster is written for three four-part choirs and St John’s church lent itself well to an effective performance of this architectural work: two of the choirs being sited in the west galleries and the third in the well of the nave. The music showed Rogier’s mastery of chori spezatti writing where the three choirs are heard separately, sometimes overlapping, sometimes throwing phrases back and forth between themselves and sometimes all sounding together. The aural splendour and richness of the tutti sections was vividly captured, the choir singing with great clarity not only here but most impressively in the more rhythmically irregular sections of the Kyrie and Gloria.
The concert opened with music from Victoria’s setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and three Responsories from his Holy Week Liturgy. These were sung with great serenity and sensitivity, displaying a very satisfying tonal balance between the parts of the choir. The superb singing of O vos omnes was deeply moving.
The subtle yet essential continuo of organ, violoncello and violone in the Rogier and Scarlatti was provided by Steven Hollas, Henrik Persson and Jan Spencer respectively. They opened the second part of the concert with a sparkling performance of a surprisingly short but engaging Sonata for cello and basso continuo by Domenico Gabrieli. Nicknamed “little Domenico of the cello”, Gabrieli was influential in liberating the cello from its role as a continuo instrument and this freedom was clearly shown in Henrik Persson’s characterful playing.
The concert concluded with Domenico Scarlatti’s ten-part Stabat Mater in which the music so strongly reflects the anguished nature of the text. From the reflective opening, through the luminous Sancta Mater to the dance-like Amen this was a highly charged, powerful and sensitive performance in which the choir responded to the variety of moods expected by Scarlatti. Particular mention must be made of the thrilling vocal agility of Esther Levin and John Tucker in the Inflammatus.
With his usual inspiring, charismatic and gentle direction, JanJoost van Elburg presented us with a superb concert sung by a most cohesive and vocally balanced choir. Arguably the best BEMP choir yet!
Tomás Luis de Victoria - Lamentations and Responsories for Easter Saturday
Philippe Rogier - Missa Domine Dominus Noster à 12
Domenico Scarlatti - Stabat mater à 10