Appositely – after Britten’s invocation to “Let us sleep now” in War Requiem heard in the evening’s first Prom – the final late-night concert this season was a seamless musical exploration of Compline – the Catholic final prayers “before the ending of the day”. With music ranging over 850 years – from Hildegard of Bingen, sung as the fourteen ladies and sixteen gentlemen of the Tallis Scholars processed through the middle of the Arena to the stage, to Arvo Pärt’s Nunc Dimittis (2001) – the seven main items were interspersed, as in a liturgical setting, with chant and antiphons provided by two groups each of four female voices situated behind Henry Wood’s bust in the organ loft, directed by countertenor Patrick Craig.
It was Craig who had led the processional through the Prommers, with Peter Phillips at the rear. With the two stations of singers in place, Phillips in the centre of a semicircle of singers, the sequence of pieces flowed like an aural balm. For Allegri’s Miserere a third station of singers was placed high in the Gallery, reaching the top-Cs that are a nineteenth-century anachronism.
The repertoire was also notable for its wide geographical range, from Mexico (Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla), Italy (Allegri), Germany (Hildegard of Bingen), Slovenia (Jacobus Gallus), Estonia (Pärt) and – from England – Thomas Tallis and John Browne, the latter opening the Eton Choir Book.
The highlights were the perhaps to be expected – the Allegri properly soared, while the Pärt was notable for its sudden climax in the major for the word “lumen”. Browne’s Marian prayer to end was the most musically intertwined, with the full complement of the Tallis Scholars.
But, forgive me. Two factors compromised this being more than the sum of its constituent parts. Understandably the lights were low, but it meant that it was almost impossible to read the texts and translations, robbing the works of their meaning. Secondly, there was little contrast – especially in the chants, with passage and answer swapped back and forth. I was soothed but, for much, left found wanting. On the plus side, the concert finished slightly early, relieving worries of the journey home and, I’m glad to report, I slept very well, so – perhaps – job done.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms