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Tomas Luis De Victoria: The Choral Pilgrimage 2006
Motets and Requiem (1605) The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester 10.4.2006 (RJF)




When 'The Sixteen' were formed by Harry Christophers twenty-eight years ago to perform 16th century music, they were indeed sixteen in number. Since then the sopranos have been increased from four to six and the total is now eighteen singers with four basses, tenors and male altos in addition to the six sopranos. Christophers and his choir have concentrated on performing early English polyphony, masterpieces of the Renaissance and a diversity of 20th century music.

Harry Christophers is very much the epitome of the English musical polymath. With 'The Sixteen' he has made over ninety recordings that have clocked up many awards and together they tour throughout Europe, Japan, Australia and the Americas. The group's association with the Manchester based BBC Philharmonic allows them to extend their current repertoire into large scale choral works of the 20th century, whilst Christophers himself conducts not only that orchestra, but also the Hallé, the London Symphony, the Royal Liverpool and the San Francisco Orchestras among others. Christophers also conducts opera ranging from Monteverdi to Messager via Gluck, Handel and Mozart. For what he terms The Choral Pilgrimage 2006 Christophers has chosen to present the work of another polymath, the Spaniard Tomas Luis De Victoria who he describes as scholar, mystic, priest, singer and composer; five persons rolled into one. The works chosen for The Pilgrimage 2006, which are being presented in concert halls, cathedrals and abbeys, come from Victoria’s extensive writings to include some Motets and the composer’s great masterpiece,the Requiem of 1605. 


In the first half of the concert, seven motets with varying stresses and combinations of voices were sung, all with a perfect blend of harmony, melody and words. The different pieces brought different moods. The opening O vos omnes of 1572 with its simplicity of text and harmonic language was followed by Super flumina Babylonis a work of greater colour and complexity equally well represented by the choir. For the Marian Antiphons, Victoria made two settings of Ave Regina with wide diversity of blends within the choir whilst the text and music are as one. By moving different sections of the male chorus to join the female sopranos and two altos on the front row, Christophers brought subtle blends to the choral combinations which the audience appreciated greatly. The Vadem et circuibo was a particularly strong piece musically with a strong coating of vibrancy, the lead sopranos soaring and contrasting with the tenors. In itself it was well contrasted with the shorter and more elegiac Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui that followed.


Whilst Victoria was trained in Rome and was a student of Palestrina one of the great contrapuntalists of his age, he was able to reflect his own nationality and the warmth and individuality of his native land in his music. This is nowhere more evident than in his Requiem of 1605 which constituted the second half of this concert. With the altos and sopranos in the front row and the tenors and basses behind, the balance and contrast as the various sections contributed was particularly and powerfully distinctive. For me, the capacity for diminuendo in unison at the end of the Introitis was a magic moment as was the powerful swell of the voices at the opening Kyrie eleison and the legato of the sopranos in the Sanctus. After a brief stop for breath, and emotional replenishment, the choir gave their considerable all in the final Responsorium where vocal strength, blend and harmony were all brought together by the conductor to a triumphal conclusion. The audience was warm in its appreciation.


Apart from the closed off upper circle, the large Bridgewater Hall was full for this cencert. This public response reflects the warmth that Mancunians have for this group and the quality of their music making. Perfection comes with commitment and practise and over many years, perfection is what Christophers and 'The Sixteen' have given both in concert and on recordings as was evident once again this evening. Many lovers of the work of this creative duo of conductor and choir hope that it will continue music making of this quality for many more years and the intellectual curiosity that pervades and influences their music making, promises many more discoveries to be shared with their admirers. As it is, if this Pilgrimage comes to any cathedral, abbey or concert hall down your way, I can do nothing less than recommend your interest and attendance regardless of whatever your previous experience of this music and this type of singing might be.

Robert J. Farr





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