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95 procents perfektion | Koncertanmeldelse

Vokalensemblet Ars Nova Copenhagen tilfører denne engelske renæssancemusik en særlig, lækker klang – samt et sofistikeret udtryk.

[scroll down for the english version]

***** (5 stjerner ud af 6)

Af Andrew Mellor

Henry VIII mente, at den vigtigste komponist i hans regeringstid var ham selv. Eftertiden har dog vurderet, at det faktisk var Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521). En højt respekteret musiker, der lavede vigtige fornyelser inden for den femstemmige messe og hvis flerstemmige vokalværker fik stor betydning for de efterfølgende engelske komponister, blandt andre Ludford og Tallis. Det er nemt at høre hvorfor. Hans musik har både nærvær og karakter og er ekstremt velkomponeret. Et godt eksempel er hans smukkeste messe: ‘Missa Tecum Principium’, som Paul Hillier og vokalensemblet Ars Nova Copenhagen opførte i Garnisonskirken søndag eftermiddag.

Messen kombinerer det blomstrende udtryk, der er fælles for guldaldermusikken i engelsk polyfoni, med omhyggelig styring. Fayrfax anvender harmonikken intelligent og gør det samme med sin “vokalinstrumentering”. Centrale steder i messeteksten blomstrer harmonierne enten op i fuld flor eller trækker sig indad, og det samme gælder for melodilinjerne. Og det var en udfordring for Ars Nova Copenhagen. Det fungerede fint, når Fayrfaxs melodilinjer gik nedad og endte i en krads klang i herrestemmerne, der formåede at få det til at lyde fløjlsagtig blødt. Men når melodien bevægede sig den anden vej, så lød sopranstemmerne anstrengte og nogle af de komplekse vokalstemmer blev ikke eksekveret sikkert nok. På et tidspunkt i den lange ‘Credo’-del faldt stemmerne næsten helt fra hinanden.

Ars Nova kan dog tilføre denne engelske renæssancemusik en særlig, lækker klang, der har et sofistikeret udtryk, som ikke virker inciterende eller “larmende”. I messens ‘Gloria’-del valgte dirigent Paul Hillier at give musikken et underspillet rytmisk spark, hvor andre typisk vælger at skubbe teksten fremad. Men Hiller havde en mere subtil måde at betone noderne frem mod deres kulmination. Musikken begyndte at strømme med mere lethed og varme i de senere dele, og en spændende følelse af kinetisk energi og nydelse brød frem hen mod slutningen af ‘Credo’-delen. Vi hørte et fikseret skift i farve på ‘Deum de deo, lumen de lumini’ (Gud af Gud, lys af lys), og Fayrfax’ meget usædvanlige nedadgående kadence ved ‘descendit de coelis’ (steg ned fra Himlene) blev håndteret begavet og med en forsigtig antydning. De usædvanlige harmoniske skift i den tredje linje af ‘Agnus Dei’ blev også formidlet klogt og beviser, at Fayrfax altid har et harmonisk trick i ærmet.

Hillier valgte at blande messen-delene med musik fra senere perioder, det tilføjede sproglige, teologiske og æstetiske kontraster til opførelsen. Christopher Tyes (1505-1573) ‘To Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ var en rolig, centreret præstation, hvor ingen af de “falske” harmoniske skift blev overbetonet, som det kan opleves med engelske kor. ‘When As We Sat in Babylon’ af Richard Farrant (1530-1580) er et meget usædvanligt værk, hvor solisten maler ekspressive linjer hen over en nynnende baggrund, som består af et omkvæd, der gentages af hele koret. Kate Macoboy formede sin solosang på smukkeste vis.

Men det værk der gjorde størst indtryk, var Alfonso Ferrabosco seniors (ca. 1542-1588) “Jeremiah-klagesange”. Dette kompakte og inderlige stykke, der er komponeret i århundredet efter Fayrfax’ Messe, blev sunget af kun fem sangere, der understregede den intime, hemmelige og sågar farlige følelse i musikken, der sandsynligvis var tiltænkt særlige opførelser af hengivne, fredsløse engelske katolikker. Det er bønfaldende og klagende musik, som er langt mere harmonisk krydret og følelsesladet end nogen messe fra den tid, og sangerne nød tydeligvis de individuelle udtryksfulde muligheder, og samtidig udgjorte de en stærk enhed. Det var det perfekte modstykke til Fayrfax og en forfriskende oplevelse. Selvom Ars Nova ikke var perfekt alle steder, så beviste de, at selv ved 95 procents perfektion er de i en klasse for sig.

Ars Nova København / Paul Hillier
Garnisonskirken, 17.9.17
Robert Fayrfax: Missa Tecum Principium
Christopher Tye: To Father Son and Holy Ghost
Alfonso Ferrabosco: Lamentations
Richard Farrant: When as we sat in Babylon

Foto: Jeppe Bjørn

– o –

[ENGLISH VERSION]

95 percent perfection

The vocalensemble Ars Nova aren’t utterly perfect, but they are a privilege to listen to.

***** (5 stars out of 6)

By Andrew Mellor

Henry VIII probably believed the most important composer of his reign was himself. History has deemed that it was actually Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), a highly respected musician who made significant innovations in the field of the Mass for five voices. Fayrfax’s polyphonic vocal works had a big influence on subsequent English composers including Ludford and Tallis. It’s easy to hear why. His music has both presence and character and is extremely well built. A good example is his most beautiful Mass setting of all: the Missa Tecum Principium, which Paul Hillier and Ars Nova Copenhagen presented at Garnisonskirken on Sunday.

The Mass combines the florid display common to the Golden Age of English polyphony with careful control. Fayrfax uses harmony with structural intelligence and does the same with his scoring; at key moments in the mass text the harmonies appear to blossom outwards or retreat inwards and so do the vocal textures. That was one problem area in Ars Nova’s performance. It was fine when Fayrfax’s textures devolved downward towards a tight cluster of men’s voices (velvety smooth in the case of Ars Nova). But when the change was in the other direction, the ensemble’s sopranos could sound stretched and some of the complex lines insecure. At one point in the long Credo, they nearly fell apart completely.

But this ensemble brings a special, delectable sound to music of the period, more subtly expressive than rousing and boisterous. In the Mass’s Gloria, Hillier invested the music with an understated rhythmic kick; others would have pushed ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ a little harder but Hiller had more subtle ways of underlining the movement’s culmination. Things started to flow with more warmth and ease in the later movements, with a thrilling sense of kinetic flow and human enjoyment towards the end of the Credo. We heard a guarded shift in colour at ‘Deum de deo, lumen de lumini’ (God from God, light from light) and Fayrfax’s highly unusual downward cadence at ‘descendit de cœlis’ (‘came down from heaven’) was handled with skill and more careful evocation. The unusual harmonic twists in the third statement of ‘Agnus Dei’ were skillfully negotiated and proved that Fayrfax always has a harmonic trick up his sleeve.

Hillier chose to disperse the Mass movements with music from later periods that provided linguistic, theological and aesthetic contrasts. To Father, Son and Holy Ghost by Christopher Tye (1505-1573) received a calm, centred performance. None of the harmonic ‘false relations’ were over-egged as they can be by English choirs. When As We Sat in Babylon by Richard Farrant (1530-1580) is a highly unusual work in which a soprano soloist drapes expressive lines over a humming texture, with refrains repeated by the whole choir in the manner of a verse anthem. Kate Macoboy’s solos were beautifully sculpted.

But the standout extra piece in Hillier’s concert was the set of Lamentations of Jeremiah by Alfonso Ferrabosco senior (1542/3-1588). This close, heartfelt piece from a century later than Fayrfax’s Mass was performed by just five singers, underlining the intimate, secret and even dangerous feel to music that may well have been written for devotional performance by outlawed English Catholics. It is pleading, lamenting music, more scented and emotive than any Mass setting, and the singers enjoyed its expressive capabilities as individuals while demonstrating tight blend at the same time. It provided the perfect counterpoint to the Fayrfax and a refreshing discovery. If Ars Nova weren’t utterly perfect here and elsewhere, they proved that even at 95 procent perfection they are a privilege to listen to.

Ars Nova København / Paul Hillier
Garnisonskirken, 17.9.17
Robert Fayrfax: Missa Tecum Principium
Christopher Tye: To Father Son and Holy Ghost
Alfonso Ferrabosco: Lamentations
Richard Farrant: When as we sat in Babylon

Læs også: »The sixties came back for a second« | Reportage

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