Robert Hugill Premieres

Vox Patris Coelestis [Parts 1 and 2]
Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello [1st movement]
Motets from Tempus per Annum (1: Ad te levavi. 2: Populus Sion) [World premiere]
Cello Suite in D minor [Prelude, Allemande, Sarabande]
Motets from Tempus per Annum (3: Gaudete. 4: Rorate Coeli) [world premiere]
Cello Suite No.3 [final movement]
Collect for Choir and Cello [world premiere]
In Manus Tuas
I will exalt thee
Deliver us, O Lord
If ye love me
The Testament of Dr Cranmer [world premiere]

Jonathan Cottle (cello)

The Eight:Fifteen Vocal Ensemble
Malcolm Cottle

Reviewed by: Evan Dickerson

Reviewed: 1 July, 2005
Venue: St Giles Cripplegate, London

I had more than a few doubts about this concert prior to the event. With at least four strands weaving through it – early English a cappella music, contemporary works by Robert Hugill, texts in Latin and English, and solo cello music – it was hard to envisage how these might be reconciled in performance. That point in itself made me intrigued from the start.

As Hugill himself assembled the programme to mark his fiftieth birthday, I suspected a reasoning behind it might not be readily apparent, and so it transpired. Perhaps a half-century spent is sufficient reason to reflect on what has shaped and directed a composer (in this case) and to point to future directions. Hugill’s work is informed by a love of liturgical texts and forms, evident from a singer’s viewpoint in addition to a composer’s insight.

How appropriate then that the warm acoustic of St Giles Cripplegate should enhance the proceedings, with the Eight:Fifteen Vocal Ensemble giving its first public concert. With two voices to each of four parts these performances were intimate and telling in the works of early English composers; Latin and English alike handled with skill and responsive to Malcolm Cottle’s sensitive direction.

Against this backdrop the solo cello works were keenly characterised: the Kodály impassioned, the Bach round-toned, along with the Britten that too suggested more than the notes themselves convey. Jonathan Cottle proved to be admirably sensitive, and used the rich tone of his instrument well, aided by the sympathetic acoustic.

Turning to Robert Hugill’s compositions, they fitted admirably into the overall scheme of the evening as well as showing a greatly musical mind at work. Demonstrating links with the early English composers works performed here in terms of form or language a distinct yet subtle statement was made. The motets in particular stuck me as immediate in their apparent simplicity and ideal material for vocal ensembles (even quartets) for regular performance within the church year.

The second half of the concert brought all strands of the concert neatly together. Hugill’s Collect for Choir and Cello was in its solo string part reminiscent of Britten in its confident declaration of the theme, then elaborated within the vocal parts. As elsewhere in Hugill’s works, it succeeded though boldness of line and clarity of structure that worked with the text.The major work of the evening, Hugill’s cantata “The Testament of Dr. Cranmer” is dependent upon texts, both Latin and English at times sung simultaneously, for its inspiration and argument. The singular act by Cranmer of renouncing his recantation in the moments approaching his death is indeed moving and Hugill has drawn richly upon available accounts of the event. I appreciated how Hugill did not consciously seek to dramatise the episode, letting words speak for themselves rather than being imposed upon. Indeed the overlaying of Latin and English was handled with skill. Perhaps at times repetition seemed a touch heavily laden, but then following as it did the directness of Thomas Tallis this impression might well not have been left by performance in other contexts.

Having reflected that this event showed internal contrast, qualities of performance and musicality and wide-ranging inspirations that draw on a broad church, as it were, the present and future is hopeful. Hopeful that traditional musical forms such as the motet, collect and cantata will thrive as long as composers and vocal ensembles continue to recognise their worth, and in doing so enhance the contemporary musical landscape. A greater challenge, I fear, will be Hugill’s projected oratorio centred on Cranmer, as the audience for such a form is all but non-existent. But then, I would rather such an enterprising work were performed with conviction in St Giles Cripplegate than not at all in any conventional concert hall.

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