Review: The Renaissance Choir – Renaissance Choral Masters

A large audience greeted The Renaissance Choir, under its conductor, Peter Gambie, with Zoe Barnett, guitar at St. Peter’s Church, Petersfield on 1st April 2023.

The concert consisted of the best of the Renaissance Choral Masters Series, which had been presented over the last five years. The lavish programme was illustrated by paintings from the same period.

The choir processed from the west end during the first item, which had been arranged by their conductor. It was an example of the ‘organum’ style out of which Renaissance music developed.

Pieces by Victoria and Palestrina demonstrated the well-blended tone and soothing line of the choir, as well as a more lively attack and rhythm as required.

The gentle and serene sounds of Zoe’s guitar in music by Dowland provided a nice musical contrast. In Fantasia no. 7, she showed tonal contrasts in the echo passages, together with smoothly executed runs.

Pieces by Sheppard and Victoria demonstrated well-handled dynamics of the polyphonic music. Music by Alonso Lobo then showed the sadness of grief in which the sound of the men’s voices was particularly appreciated.

The first half ended with a memorable performance of Ave Maria by Victoria which was in eight parts. The singers were separated into two groups, one at the west end. Peter Gambie was poised in the aisle and in the hymn of praise, the two groups echoed each other to great effect.

The architecture of St. Peter’s includes wonderful arches which reflected the rise and fall in the phrasing of the music and the warm lighting complemented the good acoustics of the church.

The choir was split into three groups for a twelve-part piece in which Guerrero set a conversation between two angels.

The 400th anniversary of the death of William Byrd was remembered by the Sanctus and Benedictus from his Mass for 5 voices. This was followed by a piece by Orlando di Lasso which was based on a pop madrigal of the day.

Music from Town and Tavern for voices and guitar included three Spanish secular works which presented 16th-century popular street music. The choir adapted well to this section, some sitting, others reacting to each other, all really enjoying the fairground scene, which included tabour and maracas.

These pieces were interspersed by guitar interludes and two solos sung by Melissa Wingfield, accompanied by Zoe, and Vanessa McCall with Tim Boxall.

The evening concluded with music for Lent and Passiontide by Robert White and Ave regina caelorum by Orlando di Lasso in which the choir excelled in long, sustained, overlapping phrases, ending in an extended chord to round off the concert.

Peter Gambie asked the audience to acknowledge not only the singers in their applause but also the composers for writing the wonderful music celebrated that evening.

Zoe Barnett was presented with a well-deserved bouquet and the Rector, in thanking the musicians, commented that the walls of the church, some of which are nearly 1,000 years old, had probably “heard” the pieces sung before.

Geoffrey Porter

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