The Royal Academy of Arts is currently showing works by Michelangelo and Bill Viola which explore the power of art to illuminate faith and it was the neatest fit to employ The Sixteen to provide a complementary programme of devotional music.
Two short pieces by Josquin opened. His signature six-part Pater Noster/Ave Maria gloriously set the tone for an evening of contemplative and joyous music-making. The programme was centered around the text of the Miserere, Psalm 51, a prayer of contrition and plea for cleansing. Allegri’s spectacular and soaring setting alternates chant and gorgeous texture which was carried off with immaculate phrasing and plangent committed singing under Eamonn Dougan. Soprano Charlotte Mobbs led the second group with distant heavenly beauty, while the tenors blend in the chant was divinely fervent.
James MacMillan’s Miserere was written for The Sixteen in 2009 and is an equally substantial and demanding meditation. MacMillan’s combination of plainchant, with a hint of Celtic lilt and Orthodox chromaticism is uniquely compelling and The Sixteen emphasised the layers of sound distinct to each part with a lightness of touch that was breathtaking.
The new work by Angus McPhee, Panem Nostrum…Ave Maria harks back textually to the Josquin and melded beautifully with the alternating styles of ancient and modern. From its plainchant and fugal beginning this assured piece is placed in the English tradition with bright countertenor leads and dark underlying ground bass and an expansive, expressive feel.
The evening came to a close with the trumpet-like, celebratory Christus resurgens by Allegri, upbeat and immaculately sung.