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Trinity College Choir - Musica Viva

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Trinity College Choir : Musica Viva :
QPAC Concert Hall

Virtuoso is the right word. I for one can't immediately think of any more appropriate way of describing singing of such staggering accomplishment."
BBC Music Magazine

"Sitting front and center at a recent Trinity Choir of Cambridge concert… was, sonically speaking, a heavenly experience."

The New York Times

"Layton's choral scholars sing this technically challenging music… with absolute purity of tone, perfection of intonation, and depth of feeling… Time and again I (was) frozen in place by the sheer otherworldly beauty of what I was hearing."
Fanfare, USA

"Here was choral singing of rare distinction by what must be the best mixed choir in Cambridge, directed by one of the finest choral directors around.

A very special occasion - even for Cambridge."
The Church Times

Trinity College's choral associations date back to the establishment of King's Hall by Edward II, which was amalgamated with Michaelhouse to create Trinity College in 1546. The Choir (numbering between 25 and 35 members, mostly students of the College) sing three regular services per week in full University Term in the Tudor chapel of the College. "Gramophone" recently named them the fifth best choir in the world.

Steven Layton has been their Director (and a Fellow of Trinity) for ten years. In his undergraduate days he was an organ scholar at King's College. He says " What you can hear today, every day, in a college chapel in Cambridge has been going on since 1480 or 90, and those two giants of Elizabethan and Tudor music, Tallis and Byrd. It is difficult to argue against the fact that when they were writing that music it was the greatest of its kind in the world."

And, think, you can hear this music between four o'clock and seven o'clock every day of the week in cathedrals all over England, entirely free, no ticket required. From Gloucester up to Ripon and Carlisle, down to Exeter, across to Chichester, everywhere. Where else in the world can you enjoy that privilege?'

The capacity audience at QPAC's Concert Hall had willingly paid for the privilege of hearing the choir, and waited expectantly, once the men and women had assembled on stage, for Steven Layton to arrive. He didn't, and the choir, minus their conductor, began to sing the Estonian "Bogoróditse Djévo" (Ave Maria). Then came Byrd and Tallis (O Lord Make thy Servant, and Salvator Mundi).

Already we could hear the wonderful diction, understated depth of feeling, and sheer beauty of tone for which this choir is renowned.

Then Steven Layton arrived, and chatted to the audience, about choral music and about what we were going to hear – American Steven Stucky, Latvian Eriks Esenvalds, Finnish Einojuhani Rautavaara, and a work that Trinity had commissioned (Oswain Park's "The Wings of the Wind"). All of these, in their various languages, were superbly sung, from memory.
Steve Layton then talked to us a little about Elgar, confiding that he was timing his speech to allow the organ scholars to get in position.

Then came what was for this reviewer the highlight of the first half, Elgar's "Give Unto The Lord" written at the beginning of the First World War, based on Psalm 29, and concluding with the promise "The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace" This work allowed the choir to showcase a range from gentle melancholy to triumphant, exultant hope.

The second half began with the first and only work that this reviewer has heard sung in Anglo-Saxon, Latin and English -- "Now shall we praise the Guardian of heaven's kingdom". It was Joseph Twist's "Hymn of Ancient Lands" a setting of England's earliest poet, Caedmon. Some years ago I somewhat unwillingly studied Anglo-Saxon and I was stuck by their flawless rendition, again entirely from memory, of this beautiful work, commissioned for Musica Viva.

The next piece transported us in our minds to a Cambridge chapel, as the choir sang the intense, sensitive Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir. The audience decided to forego the convention of waiting to the end of the work, and applauded after each part of the Mass.

Art, however briefly, brings order out of chaos, meaning out of anarchy, and this Mass, which meant so much to the composer that he embargoed its performance for forty years, swept us along with its movements, in its exultant Gloria, its reflective statement of belief (Credo), its exultation in the gift of a Messiah (Sanctus) and its humble plea for forgiveness and peace (Agnus Dei).

Preparing us to leave was Herbert Howell's "Te Deum". "O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us". Dedicated, as Steven Laycock wryly told us, to King's College, this work takes us through a canticle of the Book of Common Prayer, finishing with an unforgettable cadence surrounding the request "Let me never be confounded".

When this work finished, there was a long awed silence, before the audience responded with thunderous and extended applause.

This was a memorable concert, where a superb choir unostentatiously devoted their energies to the task in hand, to celebrate the numinous with skilful disciplined song.

Program (Brisbane)

Pärt: Bogoróditse Djévo
Byrd ; O Lord, make thy servant
Tallis; Salvator
Purcell; Remember not, Lord, our offences
Stucky; O sacrum convivium
Ešenvalds; The heavens' flock
Rautavaara; Evening Hymn, Ekteniya
Park; The wings of the wind
Elgar; Give Unto The Lord
Twist; Hymn of Ancient Lands (World Premiere)
Commissioned for Musica Viva by Mary and Paul Pollard
Martin; Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir
Howells; Te Deum (Collegium Regale)


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When: 17th - 30th July
Where: Across Australia
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