thu 25/04/2024

Corkin, Siglo de Oro, Allies, Shoreditch Church | reviews, news & interviews

Corkin, Siglo de Oro, Allies, Shoreditch Church

Corkin, Siglo de Oro, Allies, Shoreditch Church

Choral light in midwinter darkness

Siglo de Oro, a recent ornament to a golden age of British ensemble singingChris Christodoulou

Advent is as profitable for choirs as it is tricky to programme. How to delight the palates of carol-hungry audiences while offering them new treats? How to reconcile the fairy-lights of ubiquitous consumption and satiation with the Biblical call of the season as a time to wait, take stock and look forward?

Without a "Ding-Dong" in earshot, Siglo de Oro appeared at the Spitalfields Music Winter Festival and brightened up a wet and windy evening in east London with unfailingly polished accounts of Advent antiphons at either end of a half-millennium. Pearls of 16th-century polyphony gleamed in their unaccustomed setting within a novel sequence of recent and commissioned work by composers from the UK and US.

There was only one indisputable genius on show

Tone and theme were set by Drop down, ye heavens, a portion of the Medieval hymn Rorate caeli as set by Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music. Weir’s gift to her audience is to bring a fresh radiance to the old plainchant, and in an unconducted performance that prized sensuous tonal blend over the exact placement of every last consonant, Siglo de Oro showed why their new recording on Delphian is one of the festive discs of the year.

None of the commissions tears up the tonal rulebook, and something of their collectively approachable nature may be inferred from the rich infusion of a saxophone part. The composers have done well not to ape too closely the vibe of chilled-out spirituality evoked by Jan Gabarek and the Hilliard Ensemble on their Officium collaborations and each in turn (notably Samuel Rathbone, Matthew Kaner and Ralph Allwood) has either integrated or contrasted instrumental and choral voices in their own way.

However, what can be achieved in studio conditions with careful tweaking of levels is harder to replicate in concert situations with variable acoustics. Will Todd’s Mass in Blue is fast becoming a liturgical classic of its genre, but the pleading wail of Corkin’s sax in his O Wisdom threatened to overwhelm Siglo de Oro despite the positioning of instrument behind choir. The combination made more striking sense when Corkin retreated to a side-aisle in Francis Pott’s O Key of David, with its close and low harmonies, dense with the breath of expectation. Even more effective was Richard Allain’s O Day-spring, which opened from a stunning crescendo of dawning light into BBC Singers territory of wonderfully unpredictable harmony, ornamented by Corkin’s descant from the back of the church. Bonnie Mikisch’s There is no rose was another highlight, displaying the choir’s accomplished soprano section to advantage with silver threads of semitones, and extravagant ribbons of dissonance in an Alleluia tied neatly on a fourth.

Patrick Allies, founder and conductor of Siglo de Oro

Rather than giving a predictable sing-through of what is a CD in predominantly reflective key signatures, Siglo de Oro ended each half of the concert on a high note. Both the Magnificat of Hieronymous Praetorius (unrelated to his more famous contemporary Michael) and Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day by Owen Park split the choir into halves of call and response. This rearrangement of forces brought even sharper focus and attack to a distinctive ensemble sound, full of sustained energy and further refined by the fashionably mixed placement of voices.

Director Patrick Allies (pictured above) set a broad pulse for the insertions of early polyphony and coaxed an unaffected legato from his singers, who enjoyed the suspensions of Pierre Certon and Antoine de Mornable without leaning on them and overbalancing the structure. There was, though, only one indisputable genius on show, and one masterpiece of almost insolently casual finesse: O Virgo virginum by Josquin des Prez, sung and directed with evident relish but also welcome humility in the face of its gently unfolding intricacies.

Read more classical reviews on theartsdesk


There was one indisputable genius on show, and one masterpiece of almost insolently casual finesse


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters