BREMF – Music for St Michael – BREMF Consort of Voices, Deborah Roberts (director)

St Michael’s epic battle with Satan has inspired some heavenly music. The concert began with men singing the martial medieval chant ‘L’homme armé’ that Josquin des Prez ingeniously wove into two Mass settings. The Kyrie from his ‘Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales’ is a web of complex counterpoint which this choir expressed with great clarity and smoothness of tone. The resulting sublime effect was a long way from that bluff soldiers’ song.

Two exquisite Palestrina motets in praise of Michael’s celestial victory were followed by the more lively ‘Dum praeliaretur’ by Hieronymus Praetorius. This made the most of the choir’s bright soprano sound and ended with a flourish of triumphant Alleluias. A plainchant antiphon and the ‘Credo’ from the Josquin Mass then restored the sense of mystic calm.

The second half began with settings of ‘Factum est silentium’ by Melchior Franck and Richard Dering, which were followed by some lovely motets echoing the praise of the court of heaven by Victoria and Vivanco. The generous acoustics of St Martin’s church helped to create a blissful mood, the perfect atmosphere for the final work, the ‘Agnus Dei III’ from Josquin’s six part ‘Missa L’homme armé sexti toni’.

While the lower parts held a cantus firmus, the upper voices sang cascading scales in double canon. This could have melded into a muddled wall of sound but the BREMF CofV managed to articulate each scale and fade back to allow the other voices to come forward.  It generated a beautiful scintillating effect that one just didn’t want to stop.

The programme should have included the Gloria from John Taverner’s ‘Missa O Michael’ but this substantial item was cut because some key singers were indisposed. That was a pity but it did mean that the singers were not wilting by the end, and that glorious but taxing Josquin got the full attention it deserved. Although it ended so quietly it made a wonderful climax to an excellent concert.

St. Martin’s Church,
1 October 2022
Rating: ★★★★½
Andrew Connal

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