Podtours

February 23, 2010

Cries of the heart

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , — podtourz @ 10:47 am

While I was trying to find the clip for Gibbons’s ‘Cries of London’ I found the youtube channel for ‘I Fagiolini‘, a fine group of singers who specialise in Renaissance music.

Their ‘Tallis in Wonderland’ takes the usual mellifluous world of chordal harmony, the cathedral acoustic which drains the voices of humanity and roughness and creates a sound with the distance and enchantment of singing bowls, and it busts it apart.

This is Renaissance music sung for the passion. Sung for the words, which are somehow things that get forgotten in the big cathedral acoustic. It’s Renaissance music close up and personal.

Doubly close up because it uses speakers throughout the audience to distribute the sound. Nothing distanced.

Dynamic music. The singers move, act, speak. They display the characters of the melodic lines and the words they’re singing.

Now, would I want to live with this all the time? Maybe not. But when I go back to some of my recordings of Tallis sung in that nice English way, everything absolutely right and exactly in tune with the soaring boy trebles and the chunky chords, and no suspicion at all that Tallis was actually setting (the shock of it!) words that might mean something… I find it rather lacking.

Another revolutionary revision: Allegri’s Miserere. I learned to love this piece of music when I was at King’s; for me, the Nine Lessons and Carols is kitsch, it’s Ash Wednesday that is the musical highlight of the liturgical year. Monumental, a fauxbourdon that’s left the ground and found wings, a marvellous mixture of block chord solidity and swooping descant.

Then I discovered A Sei Voci’s remix, with baroque ornamentation. You can only do this with a talented singer, of course – with a singer well trained enough to feel their way through the harmonies, to trace a staggering, drunken, swirling path around the notes, creating a gossamer of fleeting suspensions and discords, tiny messe di voce, mordents and apoggiature. Not for boys. (The Sistine castrati had trained for years in the art of ornamentation, of course.)

Here it is without the ornaments.

On a personal note, I’ve found ornamentation is a never failing delight for the singer. I particularly love singing Handel; for some reason, his melodic patterns seem wired into me, in a way that Vivaldi’s or Bach’s aren’t. (The only other composer I have that deeply intimate relationship with is Reynaldo Hahn.)

But what’s purely lovely in singing Handel is the room he gives you for ornamentation. Cadenzas, simple descending cadences that just need to be ornamented, the da capo of an aria as a ground for experimentation, improvisation, spontaneity.

If you have any tendency to control freakery, to a concern with  ‘the right notes’, to freezing up your emotional response to the music, the da capo aria will sort you out. Suddenly you’re free, soaring with the wings of pure risk. You know how to do that cadenza, you’ve sort of worked out a way of approaching it, you know where you started and what pitch you need to find at the end – but you let your voice go, and suddenly it’s all a dare, you’ve let go, hang-gliding way above the figured bass in pure freedom.

And that, for a singer, is sublime.

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1 Comment »

  1. Wonderful post! Your mention of …”Their ‘Tallis in Wonderland’ takes the usual mellifluous world of chordal harmony, the cathedral acoustic which drains the voices of humanity and roughness and creates a sound with the distance and enchantment of singing bowls, and it busts it apart. This is Renaissance music sung for the passion.”… makes me wonder about the possible connection between Marco Polo and the introduction of the first singing bowls to the west.

    Comment by Tibetan singing bowl — February 22, 2011 @ 6:55 am


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