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The Sixteen: An Immortal Legacy

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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The magic is still strong

Some program notes are mind-numbingly dull.

I was very pleased to have arrived unusually early, and to have been able to browse the excellent notes for The Sixteen; An Immortal Legacy. I learned of Tippet, imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs during World War 2 because of his pacificism and of Tallis courting disaster because of his unease with the new state religion of his time, yet surviving under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth 1st.

Though called "The Sixteen" forty years ago, I noted that there were twenty people in the program photograph, and eighteen singers on stage, dapper in evening dress and clearly focused on the task in hand – to provide a meticulous, precise yet warm and engaging rendition of the beautiful complexities of Tallis, Gibbons, Byrd, Tippet, McMillan and Benjamin Britten, conducted not by their founder Harry Christophers but by their associate conductor Eamon Dougan.

It helped that the "lyrics" were in the program, in English and Latin (where appropriate) with translations.

Many of the audience were clearly availing themselves of this resource, holding their programs like hymn-books.

I found myself, lost in the beauty and complexity of the sound, remembering TS Eliot's Four Quartets:

Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

How privileged we were to hear the best in the world, with their superb blend and balance, meticulous accuracy of phrasing, and understated passion paying homage to the music, above all the music.

Which meant that the unique challenges of MacMillan. Tippet and Britten were also met on their own terms. In particular, the MacMillans ranged from atonal stridency to melodic beauty, and in this Lenten season, led us in a meditative melancholy –

"put forth thy hand and know the place of the nails".

Their Britten was a triumph – with fiendishly difficult staccato passages, celebratory dance music which made us want to stand up and move to the music, and slow celebration of concord –

"Concord, concord and time
Each needeth each;
The ripest fruit hangs where
Not one
But only two can reach

"Genuine poetry," said T S Eliot " can communicate before it is understood."

In this concert, we felt that the Sixteen were communicating through the music at a very deep level and that we were very privileged to have been a witness to their mastery.

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Why? Simply the best
When: 14th March
Where: QPAC Concert Hall
Cost: $79 - $99
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