Concert Review: Musica Sacra, St Michael's Church

By William Dart

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Musica Sacra performed Sunday. Photo / Supplied
Musica Sacra performed Sunday. Photo / Supplied

Indra Hughes can be relied upon to come with imaginative and stimulating programming, and Musica Sacra's Sunday concert was no exception.

Two major twentieth-century Masses, by Igor Stravinsky and Frank Martin, side by side, offered fascinating contrasts in terms of the personalities of their composer.

Hughes' punctuation of the Stravinsky with three settings from the twelfth-century Codex Calixtinus was, in its way, a minor coup.

In general, Stravinsky's cool and often astringent harmonies were laudably handled. The choristers were a little cautious, but one could hear those crucially placed major chords shining through the texture like the lights of a familiar town through low-lying mists.

The woodwind players were obviously enjoying the coloristic opportunities afforded by the linear precision of Stravinsky's writing.

There were many memorable moments. Hughes ensured that the Christe eleison danced as it should, on both instruments and voices; later, in the Sanctus, such was the confidence and rich tonal modulations of the choir that one was reminded of the breath-like sonorities of a bayan, or Russian accordion.

The older music did point to some extraordinary parallels between medieval Spain and the music of a twentieth-century icon.

Using only two or three voices each, the most effective item was doubtlessly the first which just happened to be the earliest example of three-part writing that has come down to us.

Iain Tetley, James Butler and Nicholas Forbes were in robust voice, here and there evoking almost organ-like resonances.

After interval, the demands of Frank Martin's massive double-choir Mass were more telling.

In places the choir's admirable vocal passion edged into shrillness and the Swiss composer's gentle, lulling lines were not always rendered with the required pliancy.

However, Hughes and his singers could not be faulterd for vigour or conviction. Here too there were touches to be cherished, from the men's jubilant Laudamus Te and a spectacular wash of Amen that closed a sprightly Et Resurrexit to the infectious, almost jazzy rhythms of the Sanctus.

What: Musica Sacra
Where: St Michael's Church
When: Sunday

- NZ Herald

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