The Marian Consort is named for Mary, Mother of God in the Christian tradition. From the Middle Ages onward Mary was celebrated and venerated in Catholic motets and antiphons. Rory McLeerly’s vocal ensemble performed a rich and varied programme of renaissance and contemporary works, written to reflect her humanity and divinity.
Byrd’s Salve Regina in 4 parts opened with bright exuberance, alternating between rich, full harmonies and sparer textures. Poignant chromaticisms coloured the text, highlighting the sentiments of pain and exile before resolving into beautiful legato and soaring soprano lines at “O clemens, O pia, O dulcis virgo Maria”. Charlotte Ashley and Lucinda Cox impressed throughout weaving a gorgeous, transparent layer of sound at the top. Roxanna Panufnik’s Magnificat was equally musically complex and emotionally affecting, with fanfare like runs and mesmerising imitation between the six parts.
A simple lullaby for three voices by Stephen Dodgson, Dormi Jesu, highlighted the virtuosity of the singers, as they conveyed the timeless intimacy of a mother singing her son to sleep. Tallis’s miraculous cascades of sound enveloped the audience with Videte Miraculum – the words could have been clearer – and Cecilia Mc Dowell’s Alma Redemptoris Mater bridged the gap between ancient and modern seamlessly with bright medieval and celtic twists and turns.
A large scale pre-Reformation antiphon by Nicholas Ludford came next: Ave cuius conceptio – highly structured in five sections for five voices, highly wrought and carried off with accomplished phrasing. Veneration of Mary brought serious, sometimes fatal, consequences post Reformation, but Robert Parson’s Ave Maria from the late 1560s has survived in all its grave beauty: an understated jewel in the Marian Consort’s repertoire. This carefully constructed recital balanced Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin with the Parsons, a resonant juxtaposition. The ebullient glories of English choral music in praise of the Virgin were encapsulated in the final piece Ave Regina Caelorum by Judith Weir, written in 2014.
For an encore we returned to the dark time of persecuted Catholicism, Byrd’s Ave Maria, from the Gradualia,1605: flawless polyphony from the Marian Consort.