Review of the Renaissance Choir’s “Spanish Renaissance Masters” concert

The Renaissance Choir is justifiably well known for its blended sound, fine tone and musicality.

In Saturday’s concert of Spanish Renaissance Masters, these characteristics of their singing were much in evidence, but with the addition of a very strong full-bodied tone that much of their repertoire doesn’t normally allow. It certainly served the climactic moments of Victoria’s double-choir Missa Salve very well.

The work is rhythmic and continually varied in its range of textures – all handled with consummate skill by the singers, under clear direction from conductor Peter Gambie.

A more typical, restrained sound was heard in the Sanctus which provided an effective contrast to the vibrantly sung Hosanna. The two longest movements, Gloria and Credo, were both exciting, and a brief section of the latter, for female voices alone, was well judged. Only in the Agnus Dei was there some hesitation, where the choir’s characteristic confidence seemed briefly to falter.

With four of their number unwell, resources were stretched in Guerrero’s three-choir Duo Seraphim, but this did not diminish the antiphonal effects, and there was some lovely sustained singing here.

The choral items were separated by solos from guitarist Zoe Barnett. I particularly like the way her playing separated musical lines, bass from melody and melody from accompaniment. There was very dexterous finger work in Rodrigo’s virtuosic Canarios, including some nice interplay with accompanist Karen Kingsley.

Concerts of choral music, and classical music in general, can be very static affairs and it is good to see that The Renaissance Choir enliven their performances with movement. Sometimes this can be simply to change position from single to double choir layout, or more often their very effective device of singing spread out around the audience. This ‘singing in the round’ is something of a feature of the Choir’s concerts and highlights their tight ensemble and blended singing. In this evening’s concert, rather than process solemnly in, they entered singing Peter Gambie’s stirring arrangement of the 12th Century Congaudeant Catholici, that had provided such a fitting prelude to the rhythms and vibrancy of Victoria’s Mass.

The second part of this concert featuring a lively group of secular Renaissance music, interspersed with short guitar solos, further developed the ‘movement’ aspect of the group’s performances. With some subtle choreography, and the opportunity for short solos from various choir members, this energetic sequence was a well-chosen foil to Victoria’s rhythmic sacred music. It was fitting that his double-choir setting of Ave Maria, sung in the round, concluded this excellent concert.

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