Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some great moments in VC Program III (Feb 18-20)

I typically send the singers of the Chorale detailed notes before and between our weekend rehearsals. We rehearse each program about 5 times over the course of the two weekends prior to each concert weekend. This week I'm posting my favorite moments for each piece, with an eye & ear to the "sublime" moments of particular beauty, and/or visionary inspiration. The lengthy "musing" below this one elaborates some of my thoughts on the subject of the sublime in music. Consider the following a listening guide for this upcoming program whose music we cherish. (For those able to come to our Feb 18-20 concerts, I hope this might pique your interest in hearing it...)

1. Finzi: God is Gone Up
The intimate beauty of the part-writing (the harmony of the chords) at the line "more to enravish..." This is a wonderful example of music sounding like the poem means...

2. Bairstow: I Sat Down Under His Shadow
This is a 90 second miniature gem of sublime choral writing!
I especially love the harmonization of the repetition of
"His banner over me was love."
It's a gently dissonant, "sighing," expressive suspension on the word "banner..."

3. Britten: Festival Te Deum
It's difficult to choose just one moment in this imaginative setting of the famous Canticle. The wonderfully controlled build in the final section of the work over the words "In Thee Have I Trusted," with a solo soprano ethereally repeating the benediction,
"Let me never be confounded."

The solo uses a mode (a scale) Britten loved, and its juxtaposition with the choral harmony is an inspired (and symbolic) choice.

4. Howells: Like As the Hart
Another great-from-start-to-finish anthem. I especially love the unfolding arc at the closing repetition of "When shall I come to appear / Before the presence of God."

5. Howells: Magnificat for St Paul's Cathedral
There is a great musical onomatopoeia in the Gloria Patri ("Glory be to the Father"): the phrases "ever shall be" and "world without end" are both set over elongated melodies that reveal a finely-wrought musical architecture of long melodic lines supported by warm harmony.

6. Howells: Nunc Dimittis
This Canticle shares with its companion Magnificat a penchant for the luminous, immediately appealing lines: "For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation Which thou hast prepared... / To be a light to lighten..."

Similar lines of visionary music from the Magnificat are:
"And his mercy is on them... / He hath filled the hungry...
and a central example of Howells' salve-like melodies appears at "He remembering his mercy..."

7. Leighton: Drop, Drop Slow Tears
This is another ravishing miniature jewel of unexpected, breath-catching harmonies. All 40 measures of it.

8. Leighton: Let All the World in Every Corner Sing
This jazzy and energetic anthem doesn't aim for the "sublime" but the organically welling crescendo of "But above all the heart / Must bear the longest part" harkens towards it...

9. Britten: Jubilate Deo
This is another jaunty, effervescent miniature, full of serious fun, including a climactic chord that purposely doesn't properly resolve: the basses sing the "wrong" note on the close of "from generation to generation!"

10. Britten: Te Deum in C
Another setting with many memorable moments. The rich--more so for being unexpected--harmony at "And we worship Thy name..."

11. MacMillan: Padre Pio's Prayer
This 10' anthem is full of visionary, ecstatic moments. So I'm listing a few of them:

A. The bold, alarmingly direct appeal in "Let me see you..."

B. The literally generous musical gesture of "seek to love you more and more..."

C. The effect of resolving a complex dissonance into a "pure" unison is always surprising to the ears. There's a great example of this technique in Padre Pio's Prayer at "Joy of my heart!"

D. The "holy longing" of spiritual desire is embodied in the music of "I look for you alone..."

E. MacMillan has moments that recall the great choral music of the Renaissance and Baroque, gestures and techniques that both connect to the tradition while re-imagining & reinvigorating it. "Come to my soul" is one such "affective moment..."

12. Stanford: Beati Quorum Via
A classic example of long lines and warm harmony that echoes the idea of the romantic sublime in sacred music. I particularly love the perfectly balanced coda that closes the work with transparent intimacy...

13. Bainton: And I Saw A New Heaven
Another classic anthem, well-crafted and shaped by lyricism and dramatic flair. The rising sequence to the work's resolution, "for the former things are passed away" is emotionally direct, and another example of the expressively inspired sublime.

13 seems like a good place to stop. I've left off the rousing pair of anthems that close this concert. Walton's Jubilate Deo is like an old-time church "Can I get an amen?!?" (but in English cathedral vestments). Vaughan Williams' popular "warhorse" (it's more like a lightning-fast thoroughbred) Antiphon is a resounding, organ toccata-like "Amen!" Please join us.

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