Lamenti & Weh: an Easter Celebration – Brighton16, Matt Jelf (Artistic Director)

The programme title implies a contrast of suffering and resurrection. Sadly, this concert included no joyful Easter music – there was, however, plenty of gloriously poignant lamenting and woe.

Two pure-voiced sopranos began with an exquisite suspension, singing a semi-tone apart. Achingly beautiful, this musical device is perfect for Passiontide music. It requires perfect tuning and steady control for best effect, and that is what Brighton16 delivered flawlessly. Giacomo Carissimi’s ‘Christus factus est’, written for the Jesuit community of Sant’ Apollinare in Rome, is an intense commentary on Christ’s Passion. The sopranos resonated wonderfully in the vast space of St Michael’s, the altos too sounded rich and strong-voiced. However, the tenors and the basses receded too much into the general blend of the music. Fortunately their diction was so clear and accurate, otherwise they would have been lost, for only fully operatic soloists could have cut through the resonances of the accompanying cello.

This same cellist, Joe Giddey, then cleared away the mourning as he played Caprice no.1 by Joseph Dall’Abaco, a repetitive calming solo before the main work of the first half, Domenico Scarlatti’s 10 part version of the ‘Stabat Mater’, the great Passiontide hymn to the Virgin Mary. This plangent Baroque masterpiece comes in ten sections with plenty of suspensions and musical weeping. It too needed distinct soloist voices which came through in the exciting ‘Inflammatus’ section. The whole choir maintained this punchy delivery through the final fugue and Amen. It was only later that I realised there had been a harpsichord too (Petra Hajduchova) accompanying the voices; a chamber organ would have carried better in that complex space.

The second half, of music from Baroque Saxony, began with two splendid funeral motets: Heinrich Schütz’s ‘Selig sind die Toten’ and ‘Tristis est anima mea’ by Johann Kuhnau. The concert concluded with J.S. Bach: first the Prelude of the solo cello Suite 2, so much more satisfying than the Dall’Abaco played earlier; and then the magnificent funeral motet for double choir ‘Komm, Jesu, Komm’. The excellent singing was again compromised by the booming acoustic and the richness of the well-realised cello continuo. The musicians have every right to be very pleased with their performance but it didn’t carry across well to the audience. Also, by this time the distinct chill in the unheated church had also conspired to spoil the occasion.

St Michael & All Angels’ Church,
23 March 2024
Rating: ★★★½☆
Andrew Connal

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