Song for Athene
Saturday 8 March 2014, Church of St Alphege, Oldfield Lane, Bath
Bach and Victoria: who could ask for anything more! Separated in time by almost one hundred years they represent arguably the two greatest musical talents of Renaissance and Baroque music. Some would go further. And the programme showed us why, skilfully contrasting other Baroque composers, Lotti and Caldara, with contemporary music: Tavener’s Song for Athene was beautifully sung, with a controlled depth of feeling and quality of tone which showed how pianissimo should be sung. It is deservedly very highly regarded.
The unaccompanied Victoria motets were particularly good, rich in the detail of the polyphony and expressing the questioning gravity of the Lent season. Versa est in luctum and Super flumina Babylonis had a poignant sadness which showed rhythmic vitality, leavened by warmth and tenderness. The opening Bach Furchte dich nicht took time to settle. The writing is complex and some parts exposed, but it finished in fine style. By the time we reached Komm, Jesu, Komm, Bach had asserted himself, and conductor Keith Bennett produced some vibrant joyful singing in the final Lobet
den Herrn: Bach at his most upbeat and jubilant.
The two Lotti settings of the Crucifixus for eight and ten parts had colour and fascinating melodic invention: Caldara in sixteen parts proved quite a handful to sing, with the ensemble slightly problematic in places. But what a fascinating distinction between Venice and Leipzig they showed us: and the way composition had moved on over a century from Victoria in Rome and in Spain.
It was an evening’s music to exercise the imagination and extend our ability to understand the genesis of this highly productive period in musical history. The choir, with one or two new faces, provided the quality and intuition we have come to expect. They know what they’re doing, under Keith Bennett’s informed direction, and it shows in the excellence of the sound they produce. Steven Hollas provided the organ accompaniment with his customary finesse.
Peter Lloyd Williams