The final concert of this year’s Tetbury Music Festival was an awesome occasion as Tenebrae [https://www.tenebrae-choir.com/] the renowned choir specializing in Renaissance church music, conducted by Nigel Short, gave us a performance that was a little visit to heaven.
The programme consisted of English Tudor church music, ideally suited to this setting in St. Mary’s, polyphonic settings of the Latin liturgy or of sacred texts. In this genre of music, banished by the Reformation, seraphic voices rise like fountains, play and interplay like beams of light, expressing perfect bliss, serenity and calm. They sing of mystery, revelation and consolation. They exult or mourn, wonder and bless, telling us we are creatures with a soul.
The programme started with Christe qui Lux Es, (Christ who is light) by Robert White, one of the lesser-known composers of the period. He was organist of Westminster Abbey and died of the plague in 1576. It is a prayer for protection during the hours of darkness, perfect for an autumn evening in the ebbing of the year.
Next came William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, a fine work he daringly published in the 1590s during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The voices blend mostly in perfect harmony, with occasional striking dissonance.
Four works by Thomas Tallis followed. O Sacrum Convivium (O sacred banquet) is an anthem in honour of the Mass, short but reverent. Sancte Deus and Miserere Nostri are both prayers for mercy, while Loquebantur is a dramatic rendering of Pentecost.
In the second half we heard another setting by Robert White of the Christe qui Lux Es text, and personally I wouldn’t mind hearing the other two that he apparently wrote. It makes a perfect Compline hymn. It was followed by William Mundy’s anthem Vox Patris Caelestis, a curious text that no one could possibly fail to notice was Catholic, as it celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. In it God the Father speaks using imagery taken from the Old Testament Song of Solomon and the Book of Esther, to welcome Mary as his ideal and desirable spouse. It is a very weird sort of erotic theology, but the music is exquisite, featuring a soaring soprano part of great loveliness.
The last item was Robert White’s Exaudiat te Dominus, taking its text from Psalm 20, “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble”. Written for a time of war, it says “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
This was an inspirational performance given by a dedicated group in ideal surroundings. It was an uplifting finale to this wonderful 2023 Tetbury Festival.
Sunday 1 October 5pm St Marys' Church, Tetbury Tenebrae conducted by Nigel Short [https://www.tenebrae-choir.com/blogs/nigel]
Programme Robert White: Christe qui lux es III William Byrd: Mass for four voices Thomas Tallis: O sacrum convivium Thomas Tallis: Sancte Deus Thomas Tallis: Miserere nostri Thomas Tallis: Loquebantur Robert White: Christe qui lux es IV William Mundy: Vox Patris caelestis Robert White: Exaudiat te Dominus
Under the direction of Nigel Short, Tenebrae performs at major festivals and venues across the globe, including the BBC Proms, Wigmore Hall, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Rheingau Musik Festival and Sydney Festival. The choir has earned international acclaim for its interpretations of choral music from the Renaissance through to contemporary masterpieces, and has commissioned new music from composers including Judith Bingham, Joanna Marsh, Owain Park, Josephine Stephenson, Joby Talbot and Roderick Williams. Tenebrae has enjoyed collaborations with some of the UK’s leading orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra, the Academy of Ancient Music and Britten Sinfonia. The choir also undertakes regular session work, having contributed the vocals for Max Richter’s Voices (2020), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Notre Dame brûle (2022), and blockbuster sci-fi movie Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) among others. Its extensive recording catalogue comprises a wide range of music on labels including Signum, LSO Live and Warner Classics, and has earned the choir two BBC Music Magazine Awards and a Grammy nomination.