A fresh approach
This concert was certainly a rather different taking of the Song of Songs, a collection of love poems usually attributed to that great biblical figure King Solomon. The poetry is certainly beautiful, sometimes rather erotic and always very sensuous. It is surprising how down the centuries countless different composers have been attracted to these love poems.
We therefore have some very early compositions from the fifteenth century to the present day. Some of the songs where developed into Marian compositions that celebrated Our Lady in pre-Reformation Europe for feasts such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. It is interesting how the transition from rather erotic love poetry to something more religious in one sense developed over the years. One of the most common Songs that attracted several composers is Song 1:5,
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem
Therefore I have pleased the Lord
And he brought me into his chamber. Alleluia
The famous 20th century cellist Pablo Casals set these words as did the 15th century Jean L’Heritier and 20th century Marcel Dupre.
Beautiful, but a bit samey
What surprised this reviewer was that despite the diverse range of composers who set these songs to music you would not have known that some of them were 400 years apart. Take for instance the setting of ‘How fair thou art’ by Nicolas Gombert of the 15th century followed by Ivan Moody’s Canticum Canitcorum 1 composed in 1987 – there was not that much difference in sound and texture. The two could have written, at most, 50 years apart. And that I feel was the stumbling block of this concert. Everything while beautifully sung tended to start sounding the same. The exception was Marcel Durpre’s Antiphons which consisted of Gregorian Chant interspersed with organ improvisations. This was certainly different and arresting and a welcome change.
I cannot fault the Choir who did sing excellently but I think any concert needs to be one of contrasting textures and this wasn’t one. I suppose love songs will inevitably lend themselves to sensuous beautiful music but it became all a bit rich. Maybe either a contrast in the concert between love songs in the first half or songs of war in the second may have led to a better experience.