“Before the fanfares and celebrations of the Last Night of the Proms comes a late-night moment of contemplation led by Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars. Recreating the Christian office of Compline, the final service of the church day, they weave together a sung meditation spanning over 1,000 years of sacred music. The delicate tracery of Renaissance polyphony by Padilla and Gallus gives way to the 21st-century ‘Spiritual’ Minimalism of Arvo Pärt, and at the centre of it all sits Allegri’s exquisite Miserere.” [BBC Proms website]
Hildegard von Bingen
Ordo virtutum – In principio omnes
Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla
Deus in adiutorium
Te lucis ante terminum
O Maria salvatoris
Interspersed with Chants & Antiphons
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 6 September, 2018
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
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