A Rich Tapestry of Sound

Taverner Missa Mater Christi Motets by Dove, Jackson, Mealor, O'Regan
Saturday 19 October 2013,  Church of St Alphege, Oldfield Lane, Bath

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A beautiful church with a well-nigh perfect ambience and acoustic for a capella singing: a high-quality choir: a programme using the structure of the Latin Mass, Mater Christi to provide a framework for the introduction of contemporary music: all sung with just two three/four minute pauses – tough on the singers, but so effective in sustaining the musical momentum: the ingredients for an unforgettable musical experience.  It wasn’t perfect: no performance ever is. But the applause and the buzz at the end told its own story.
John Taverner, writing in the mid-sixteenth century, produced his Missa Mater Christi probably from a pre-existing composition for five vocal parts.  It combines a brisk con motto tempo, full of movement, with some lovely andante passages, the sopranos in particular, in fine fettle.  I particularly enjoyed the quiet unison singing: and the different combinations which kept the work surging forward up to the ebullient, exultant Agnus Dei: peace at last.
Interspersed with the movements of the Mass were four contemporary pieces by Tarik O’Regan, Gratias Tibi: Jonathan Dove, Into Thy Hands, a quite exquisite setting of a modern English translation, which combined expressive harmonic resonance with sensitive changes of tempo: Gabriel Jackson, Salus aeterna, rhythmic and meditative in turn: and Paul Mealor’s, Ubi Caritas, famously sung at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. The piece which combines lyricism with quite spiky harmonies very effectively, has become deservedly extremely popular.
A most moving and compelling combination of musical styles, which showed us how well this group can handle early and contemporary music.  The balance was particularly noteworthy and the feel for tempi and dynamic range, too, produced a very fine controlled, expressive sound.  The result, clearly, of a lot of hard work by conductor Keith Bennett and his singers. The audience loved every minute of it.

Peter Lloyd Williams