Wednesday, July 28

BREMF – DARKNESS INTO LIGHT – Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens

- October 26, 2019

BREMF main programme began in the darkness of Tenebrae, plangent verses from Jeremiah sung during Holy Week when the Church closes down ceremony for Good Friday. An auspicious start? Oh yes, when it’s as passionate and beautifully wrought as these settings taken from an antique Florentine choir-book by Co-Director of Musica Secreta, Professor Laurie Stras.

Her diligent research and encyclopaedic knowledge of the polyphonic choral works of Italian convent choirs led her to match the music with scraps of verses set by the influential French composer Antoine Brumel, familiar to BREMF audiences for his animated ‘Earthquake Mass’. These Lamentations have been brought back from anonymous obscurity into the light of public performance and recording.

We will never know exactly what the sisters of San Jacopo in Florence sounded like but they must have been very accomplished musicians, so it is only right that these sublime devotional verses should be performed now by choirs of similar high quality. Musica Secreta, a very experienced professional ensemble, specialises in this rich but much-neglected repertoire. They hardly need conducting from Co-Director Deborah Roberts; they instinctively shape and develop the intricate phrases, lightly passing snatches of tune around, deftly accompanied by bass viol and chamber organ, played by BREMF stalwarts Alison Kinder and Claire Williams. In the generous church acoustic, the audience could simply drift away in devotional reverie or settle down and enjoy concentrating on the complex polyphonic effects.

The Celestial Sirens, a similar choir of accomplished amateurs, joined in the second half with some brighter motets. Although most are still anonymous, they too are brilliant works rightly rescued from archival gloom.

Once again the BREMF bar has been set very high from the start – Bravissime!

St Martin’s Church,
25 October 2019
Rating: ★★★★½
Andrew Connal

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