The Renaissance Choir has embarked on a year of themed programmes – concerts where the title is “Sanctus” or “Gloria” or “Agnus Dei”. This approach allows works from many different periods to share the same programme, so that Bach and Mozart, Victoria and Poulenc can nestle together in the same sumptuous feast.
Our second programme, at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Southsea on 15 July is entitled “Gloria” and coincides with conductor Peter Gambie’s 25th year with the Renaissance Choir.
Peter describes his time with the choir as “a marriage made in heaven” and has chosen a number of works to represent pinnacles of their relationship.
The choir has a tradition of expanding the standard repertoire of chamber choirs and was one of the first groups in the country to tackle the complex polytonal music of Poulenc. His Salve Regina was written shortly after the death of a close friend and represents the composer’s emerging interest in setting texts from the sacred repertoire, which was to culminate in his masterpiece, the Gloria.
The choir was one of the first to pioneer the music of Eric Whitacre, a composer who has taken the choral world by storm. We have given the European premiere of his Alleluia and are delighted to include three of his works in this programme. This includes Sleep, which was originally written to the poetry of Robert Frost; however, following legal action from his Estate prohibiting its use, Whitacre commissioned Charles Anthony Silvestri to write a poem for the music that had already been written, with an identical structure to the Frost poetry, finding a completely different (but equally beautiful) message.
Hungarian composer Csemiczky’s Pater Noster is in the programme to celebrate the choir’s visit to Budapest in 2006, where we joined with the world-class Budapest Monteverdi Choir to give the first Anglo-Hungarian performance of Tallis’s 40-part motet, Spem in Alium.
Phillip Moore’s I saw him standing is one of the most demanding pieces in the choral repertoire and represents the choir’s wish to keep climbing the ladder of ever-more demanding music. The words are a translation, by Rowan Williams, of a Welsh hymn by Anne Griffiths. She was a farmer’s wife without formal education, who wrote a small number of hymns that are remarkable for their bold and extravagant imagery and sustained emotional density.
The Gloria movement from Mozart’s Coronation Mass is included because of its sparkling writing, where the image of a regal ceremony is never far away. This movement also featured on one of the choir’s first CDs.
Bach’s B minor mass is rightly regarded as one of the finest pieces ever written. The Gratias Agimus Tibi movement is a fugue of outstanding proportions, which grows from a simple beginning, flowering in increasing intensity until it reaches a triumphal climax. For JSB, solving fugue puzzles is akin to completing a Rubik’s cube in the dark with ease, so he frequently threw in challenges to make life difficult for him. Numerology fascinated him, so there are many fugue subjects which have 14 notes (B=2 + A=1 + C=3 + H=8). The number 41 (inverse of 14) is, numerologically, J+S+B+A+C+H.
Guerrero’s Ave Maria is a classic late-renaissance double-choir setting, with short answering phrases between the groups which culminate in sonorous eight-part sections. Known in his lifetime as ‘El cantor de Maria’, Guerrero was second only to Victoria in Spanish renaissance music. His Marian motets are celebrated as some of the most beautiful compositions of the period.
Lobo’s elegiac masterpiece Versa est in luctum was written for Philip II’s memorial service at Toledo Cathedral in 1598. It is his best-known work.
Victoria was the greatest Spanish composer of the late Renaissance. His Missa O quam gloriosum balances great simplicity with a marvellous controlled fervour that is typical of him.
Byrd’s Ne Irascaris, Domine conveys his protest and defiance following alienation by triumphant Protestantism.
Peter includes two of his own works in the programme: this includes Congaudeant Catholici, which comes from an ancient tome held in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The book – Codex Calixtinus – is an 11th century guide book as well as a trove of music from the period. Don’t go to town “x” because they will poison your horses and rob you is one such piece of advice for the traveller. Peter’s transcription of this joyful work was performed during their tour to La Coruña and Santiago de Compostela in 2014.