Wigmore Hall New Year’s Eve Concert

Missa Puer natus est nobis
Songs from the Bavarian Highlands, Op.27
Neue Liebesliederwalzer, Op.65

Choir of The King’s Consort
Robert King

Gary Cooper & Matthew Halls (piano duet)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 31 December, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

In the Wigmore Hall last night, 2005 came to a close in robust and joyous noise. The 16 or so human voices forming the Choir of The King’s Consort revelled in producing warmly mellifluous sound.

Of Thomas Tallis’s Mass, the ‘Gloria’, ‘Sanctus’, ‘Benedictus’ and ‘Agnus Dei’ survive almost complete. The ‘Credo’ is missing; there was no ‘Kyrie’, ever. The Mass was almost certainly written to celebrate Christmas Day 1554 when Philip II of Spain came to Winchester for his marriage to Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII. Hopes for the Roman Catholic royal pair – and particularly for union blessed with a son – gave added point to ‘Puer natus est nobis’.

Phillip brought his celebrated Flemish choir, the Cappella Flamenca, with him. The style of the Mass corresponds in its rich and continuous use of the full choir with no alternating sections for fewer singers. The Choir of The King’s Consort responded magnificently. A warm glow suffused the singing and interpretation. I was particularly struck by the mellowness of the women’s voices, the sopranos in particular. It was soothingly creamy in its maturity and smoothness – never shrill.

Elgar’s six Songs from the Bavarian Highlands are not part of Bavarian folklore. The Elgars had several holidays in Southern Bavaria, walking during the day and enjoying local revelry in hostelries after darkness fell. Alice Elgar wrote the words for these songs. Both text and music are rumbustious. The words are deliberately banal, and the music is slightly more sophisticated, though firmly in the spirit of affectionate parody – in swinging, exuberant contrast to the close sonorities of Tallis’s Mass. Elgar clearly found an affinity with the earthiness of the Bavarian peasantry’s musical lore – more grounded than their English equivalent. The singers of TKC’s Choir threw themselves into the rollicking, clumping rhythms with gusto and abandon.

Brahms’s Neue Liebesliederwalzer consists of 15 short poems set to music – initially for a small choir – in homage to Johann Strauss the Second. Schubert lies firmly in the background, as well. Brahms’s friend, George Friedrich Daumer wrote in imitation of oriental verse forms, but with German romantic content. Some are terse enough to resemble Japanese ‘Haiku’. In lilting, sprightly or dreamy waltz tempos, we hear of storms and grief, despair and joy, rings and betrothals, roses and kisses, dark forests and meadows.

The overall tone of the music, however, is jaunty, with occasional sombre overtones. The choir and the accompanying piano duet were suave and catchy. The interpretations owed more to Schubert than to Strauss, however – partly because the singing did not quite catch a true Viennese lilt. Not all the songs were sung full choir. We had one tenor solo, two soprano solos and one contralto. One song was female voices only; another was for male voices, and added interest. Otherwise the work, though engaging, can become a little repetitive. I enjoyed hearing some individual voices, too – comparing these sounds to the collective timbre.

Altogether this was, gently, a most happy and uplifting evening – warming the heart and bringing a smile to one’s lips.

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