Tenebrae: January 2012

Roderick Earle writes: Delighted that our autumn programme In Nature’s Realm (see programme under Previous Concerts) drew such good audiences in Colchester and Framlingham, it is clear that the choir is not only gaining a following but that our audiences are keen to join us as we continue our journey of exploration into lesser well known areas of the repertoire.  The feedback about the choice of music for these concerts has been unanimously positive. This is very gratifying!

After the success of our candlelit concert Vespers in January of this year, it seemed logical to try and find another unaccompanied programme that would suit the darkened candlelit spaces of St. Teresa’s church, Colchester and St. John’s Cathedral in Norwich for January 2012. Like this year, we also wanted to offer music which would be a complete contrast to the music of the Christmas season.

Tenebrae, the ancient late evening office (an anticipation of the following morning offices like the orthodox All Night Vigil) for the last three days of Holy Week has had music written for it by many great composers. During the service 15 candles are extinguished one at time after each psalm. Finally, the Miserere is sung with one candle remaining in the shadows (tenebrae).

Several members of the choir had expressed the wish to sing Allegri’s wonderful setting of the Miserere (the one with the solo top C’s, transcribed by the 14 year old Mozart  by ear) and a particular passion of mine is the music of Gesualdo, who wrote the most sublime setting of the Tenebrae Responsories. Yes, Gesualdo is the composer best known for murdering his wife and her lover ‘in flagrante delicto’. But this fact obscures his real claim to fame, namely to be one of the greatest composers of the late Italian Renaissance. For too long he was regarded as an eccentric who wrote illogically chromatic music, but like Berlioz, Ives or even Beethoven he is now rightly regarded as the ground breaking genius that he really was, writing music way ahead of his time. Virtually none of his contemporaries followed his lead. If they had the history of music might have been very different. To 21st century ears his harmonies anticipate the tonal complexities of late 19th century harmony and make many of his better known contemporaries sound dull and predictable.

So here was the beginning of a programme. Lotti’s famous 8 part Crucifixus was also on some of our singers’ wish list and together with Anerio’s Christus factus est (another setting for Tenebrae) complete the first part of our programme.

To offer a contrast to the intense beauty of these pieces we will follow with Palestrina’s joyous Exultate Deo and the great two part motet Tu es Petrus. The former one of the composer’s best known works and the latter a favourite of papal celebrations to this day. Monteverdi’s beautiful Christi, adoremus te and his exuberant Cantate Domino complete the programme.

Recommended recordings:

The Sacred Flame (Cambridge Singers – John Rutter) Collegium

Gesualdo – Sabbato Sancto (Ensemble Vocal Europeen – Herreweghe) Harmonia Mundi – Musique d’abord

Allegri Miserere (The Sixteen – Christophers) Coro