Preview of “Road to Calvary” in Petersfield, 27 February 2016

As the first of our 40th anniversary celebrations, we are singing some lenten music. View our concert page.

Some notes from our MD, Peter Gambie:

2016 sees the 40th anniversary of The Renaissance Choir and the year brims with delectable music which encapsulates the choir’s successes over the decades.

The choir has tackled many of the major polychoral works (music for many voices) and our next programme sees us rise to the challenge of Caldara’s 16-part Crucifixus. The Lenten-themed programme also features Lotti’s Crucifixus and two settings of “O Vos Omnes”, one of which will be the world première of a work written by our partner-composer, James Dunlop.

Part of the choir’s illustrious tradition lies in world firsts: previous premières include works by Rodrigo and Whitacre. This pioneering tradition led to us being one of the first UK choirs to bring American composers to the public’s attention, which is why we include Lauridsen’s sensuous Lux Aeterna.

Renaissance music is represented by Tallis’s sublime Lamentations of Jeremiah, amongst other delights. Some of Bruckner’s motets (Ave Maria, Locus Iste, etc.) will also delight many concert goers. We will also sing Congaudeant Catolici – for further info and to hear a recording by the choir visit this page.

Joining us in this programme is our best-loved concert pianist, Karen Kingsley.

Notes on the individual composers and works (where not described above):

Anton Bruckner – Motets (Geistliche Chöre): Ave Maria, Locus Iste, Os Justi. One reviewer notes: “Bruckner’s motets express his devout Roman Catholic beliefs, using the modal chords and long, Gregorian chant-like lines of the Renaissance masters. But the harmonic shifts and compositional techniques display a clearly Romantic sensibility, and the blocks of contrasting sound display Bruckner’s roots as an organ improviser”. Recently the Renaissance Choir’s ability to sing boldly dramatic music (as well as the more intimate sound of Renaissance motets) caused a reviewer from The News to remark on the choir’s “truly sensuous sound”.

Ave Maria, derived from the Annunciation, is set for divided parts, facilitating the contrast of upper and lower voices. Locus iste is a poignant, working of the text from the Mass for the dedication of a church. Os iusti (“The mouth of the righteous”), is a setting of Psalm 37: 30–31 and a Gregorian chant used as gradual of the “Commune Doctorum”.

Caldara’s Crucifixus sounds similar to Spem in Alium, due to the dense texture of 4 x 4 part choirs. It uses a “cascade” effect of rising suspensions to create enormous tension. We’re singing it “in the round” by surrounding the audience. This has proved enormously popular with Petersfield audiences in the past.

Lotti’s Crucifixus contains a passage representing the nails being hammered in to Jesus’ body. Its crushing dissonances bring out an unrelenting sense of grief.

Lotti and Caldara studied music together in St Mark’s, Venice.

The text of Pablo Casals O vos omnes comes from the Book of Lamentations and expresses Christ’s bitterness at people passing Him by as He’s being crucified. Casals was the most famous and respected cellist of his day. One can hear double basses and cellos playing in Casals’ head at the start of the work, which also brings Beethoven’s 7th symphony to mind.

James Dunlop’s O vos omnes is a new commission from the Renaissance Choir to our Guest Composer. This piece skillfully combines despair and hope.

We will be singing parts of Duarte Lobo’s Missa pro defunctis. His music is virtually unknown in the UK. We pioneered its performance in the year we travelled to Portugal, his homeland. His music uses long, sensuous phrases, quite distinct from other Renaissance music.

Tallis’s Videte miraculum (Behold the miracle of the mother of the Lord) is the Responsory at Candlemas (the purification of the Virgin Mary). The expression of this miracle is one of Tallis’s masterpieces, which achieves a sense of stillness and awe.

We will be singing part 1 of Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah, based on the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament. It is generally accepted that the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BC forms the background to the poems. The verses mourn the desertion of the city by its god and its destruction, the ultimate return of the divinity, and are partly a funeral dirge in which the bereaved bewails and addresses the dead. The tone is bleak: God does not speak, the degree of suffering is presented as undeserved, and expectations of future redemption are minimal. The music is suitably sombre and melancholy.

Composers who set the Hebrew Lamentations of Jeremiah included the verse letters as part of the music: the Hebrew letters ALEPH, BETH, GIMEL, DALETH, and HE, head each verse. This numerology is similar to that found in Spem in alium and has provided intrigue ever since.

Finally, the image of Christ’s crucifixion we’re using on our poster is from a painting by Dali in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum.