IN DULCI JUBILO
Saturday 7th December 2019
A TREAT FOR EYES AND EARS - A REVIEW
I had not been to All Saints’ church in Weston-Super-Mare before last Saturday, but I am sure it will not be my last visit to a location which is truly lovely, both visually and acoustically. The occasion was the Christmas concert ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ given by the Costanzi Consort directed by Peter Leech, an ensemble I had not heard before. However, Peter’s choral credentials are of course firmly established and I had no doubts that the evening would be a very rewarding one. All concerts should start with delicious mulled wine and cheesy whatsits served by friendly helpers and I was already well-disposed before I heard a note!
As usual, Peter’s programme was very varied, presenting an eclectic mixture of old and not-so-old, the well-known and the completely unfamiliar (both pieces and composers). He himself, sartorially striking in the waistcoat department, interspersed the musical items with his usual clear and informative explanations, which added significantly to the evening.
Mainly drawn from the German baroque milieu, the programme featured familiar composers such as Schütz, Praetorious, Pachelbel and Bach but also gave us insights into music by less obvious names. The concert opened with the well-known ‘Es is ein Ros Entsprungen’ (Praetorius) sung from the back of the church before the choir processed to their usual position. Immediately I was impressed by their crystal-clear sonority – every line could heard in a solid ensemble sound, their intonation was spot on, and their German pronunciation was just as good. The Schütz piece which followed (‘Ach Herr, du Schöpfer aller Ding’) brought an air of majestic mystery with its thrilling suspensions and harmonic shifts.
Praetorius’s ‘Psallite Unigenito’ by contrast is a joyful madrigal with an almost folkish tune (I could visualise lederhosen being slapped) - the choir’s agility and perfect balance between the parts was exemplary. Robert Pearsall was the only English composer featured, and I was unaware that he had left a large repertoire of his music in Germany. In his ‘Sederunt Principes’ there was just a hint of over prominence in the alto and tenor parts and in the Schütz which followed (‘Ein Kind is uns geboren’) Peter had to play and gyrate flamboyantly at the same time to keep control of the rhythm – the ensemble was not perfect in places (heads in copies!) . I’m nitpicking of course – overall this is a choir with a superb choral discipline and solid ensemble capability.
As Peter pointed out, the famous ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ tune has been used by many composers and we heard two examples in this concert. The Praetorius version had the familiar melody in canon from the ladies with a lovely tenor overlay – well sung, rhythmically spot on. In the Bach setting, later in the programme, the tune (upper voices) was beautifully underpinned by constantly moving and decorative figures in the lower parts. Here the dynamic contrast between v1 and v2 was truly lovely and the clarity of line was maintained throughout.
An item by item analysis would put my readers to sleep, so a few highlights – I was amazed by the enigmatic chromatic wanderings in the organ piece by Steigleder (1593-1635). He was well ahead of his time in the tonality department. Singing the ‘Ingressus Angelus’ of Praetorius from the Lady Chapel was interesting - the lack of visual input somehow made the sound more consonant and coherent. Similarly splitting the choir front and back to present an antiphonal version of Handl’s ‘Resonet in laudibus’ worked brilliantly. I wasn’t quite so sure about the ‘in the round’ presentation of Pearsall’s ‘Salve Regina’. The sound was wonderful, but I didn’t find it visually appealing!
The concert ended with Schütz’s ‘Cantate Domino’ a rhythmically terrifying piece to sing. It speaks volumes for Costanzi that after a gruelling evening they sounded as fresh and accurate as they did at the very beginning. The evening was a triumph for the singers and their musical director, and the hard work they must have put in was obvious. They already have a full calendar for 2020, with three more concerts planned – I want to hear them.
Harold W. Mead