'Sing my tongue' is the title of the next Cecilia Consort concert at 7.30pm on Saturday 16 November at St. John's Church, Newbury.
'Pange lingua' or 'Sing my tongue' are the first two words of a medieval Latin hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas which Josquin des Pres uses as the basis for his mass of the same name. The French Renaissance composer, widely considered to be the first master of polyphonic vocal music, takes the hymn melody and uses it freely in all voices and in many variations in elaborate and ever changing polyphony. Gabriel Fauré also draws inspiration from Thomas Aquinas’ hymn taking the last two verses beginning with the words ‘Tantum ergo’ and arranging them in a beautiful setting for three female voices.
The programme also includes Poulenc's Four Christmas motets which relate the Christmas story using texts usually associated with Gregorian chant. Poulenc's distinctive style contrasts startling dissonance with luscious harmony and solemnity with playfulness. This demanding a capella piece requires rhythmic precision, clear intonation and ensemble balance.
In contrast James Whitbourn's Missa Carolae combines the words of the Latin mass with the melody of several familiar carols. The work which was commissioned by Rochester cathedral to mark the 1400th anniversary of its foundation in 2004, invokes a dance-like spirit true to the origin of the carol as a simple dance form. Arranged for choir, organ and piccolo this performance of Missa Carolae will feature the consort’s regular accompanist Steve Bowey playing the organ and Samantha Moore on piccolo.
The Cecilia Consort is a 40-strong, mixed voice choir, directed by Janet Coxwell, which performs two or three concerts a year in and around the Newbury area. Tickets cost £15 (£5 for under 18s) and are available online from www.ceciliaconsort.org.uk, or by calling 07775 743445.'Sing my tongue' is the title of the next Cecilia Consort concert at 7.30pm on Saturday 16 November at St. John's Church, Newbury.
Review by Fiona Bennett
Newbury Weekly News
As a music student, I found the first year music history course a little dry. It was the music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods and being someone who loves great big squishy tunes and lush harmonies, I struggled a little with the first couple of months’ content. We mostly read the scores and listened to recordings so it was a real eye opener to hear Janet Coxwell and The Cecilia Consort open their autumn concert with the Missa Pange Lingua by Josquin des Prez.
The tenor and bass sections began singing from the rear of the Nave, moving a little closer to the altar during each verse of the Pange Lingua Chant (Anon) and the sopranos and altos processed onto the stage in silence. Josquin was thought to be the first master of polyphonic vocal writing and it is a challenging piece. Peppered with delicious open 5th intervals, polyphonic and homophonic styles of singing, fugal passages and some really funky 16th century syncopation, it’s clear why the music copyists of the time would attribute music to him (in order to sell more copies) and it was some time before experts sorted the real Josquin wheat from the fake chaff in order to catalogue his work. The choir made a lovely full sound and with a little help from their resident accompanist, Steve Bowey, held pitch well in between movements well.
The Fauré Tantum Ergo gave us a lovely contrasting close to the first half and featured the choir’s soprano and alto sections but it was Poulenc’s Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël which stole my heart. It’s hard to believe this largely self-educated composer was still alive when I was born and, ever since hearing his Gloria in 1978, I have loved his music. The choir gave us dynamic variation, shimmery soprano passages, sonorous bass lines and they really went to town with this marvellous composer’s cheeky harmonic changes and quirky rhythmic writing. Definitely my favourite piece of the evening.
James Whitbourn’s Missa Carolae was not familiar to me but I soon began picking out well-loved Christmas carols, including God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and it was lovely to see the choir enjoying themselves in the run up to the festive season. The repetitive and yet, catchy Kyrie had us all wanting to join in and Steve’s organ accompaniment was enhanced by the playing of a lone piccolo (Samantha Moore) which made for an interesting and jolly combination. Lucy Crompton Reid’s soprano solo was a joy; a pure sound and beautifully controlled dynamics.
It was only the 16th of November but Janet and her choristers gave me that first festive flutter of the season. Thank you Cecilia Consort, it was a special evening all ‘round.