From The Times - Hilary Finch
QUITE a happening on Saturday night in the hallowed sanctum of the Inner
Temple in London. A deep silence in the medieval round church which serves
as both baptistry and funerary for the Temple Church. And then, as Tallis’s
great 40-part motet, Spem in alium, began its multiphonic journey up into
the vaulting, so the audience began to move about the church from east
to west, savouring the shifting kaleidoscope of voices as they radiated
through the building. And then it happened all over again.
Billed simply as an evening of sacred music by Thomas Tallis and Arvo
Pärt, this was interactive concert-going at its most revelatory.
Stephen Layton, director of the excellent and entirely amateur Holst Singers,
had devised a programme which would use every nook and cranny of the Temple
Church to the full. And so sensitive was his 'choreography' and his musical
pacing that, far from reeking of gimmickry, it all seemed as though it
could not have happened in any other way.
Tallis and Pärt are natural soulmates: the Elizabethan with his light-filled
polyphony transcending contemporary religious and political turmoil; Pärt,
with his own potent conjuring of sound and silence defying time and tyranny.
The evening began from the distance of the west door, the Holst Singers
huddled and hushed in Tallis’s sober If You Love Me, then moving
into the near distance as voice climbed high upon voice in the Pentecostal
volubility of Loquebantur variis linguis.
A short organ antiphon was played by William Whitehead as the choir moved
stealthily from west to east, stilling themselves for Pärt’s
Seven Magnificat Antiphons. Perfect tuning, perfect German, and the illusion
of movement in stasis, as seven attributes of divine wisdom rose to a
reverberant climax as the Key of David opened the spiritual prison-house.
Layton drew a concentrated intensity from his singers which radiated in
the high, clear air of O Morning Star.
Pärt’s 1989 Magnificat and Nunc dimittis from 2001 drew the
Holst Singers back west and, as a single soprano voice soared high above
the spare textures, the west door swung open and the Gloria dissipated
into the dusk.
The two performances of Spem in alium dominated the second half, with
the wandering audience drawn to the body of the choir itself, seemingly
transfixed in the resonance of its voices. And, in between, a gathering
by the altar, as the male voices of the Holst Singers beat the steady
pulse of Pärt’s De profundis, to the dull echo of drum, gong
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