Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sun and moon and Bach's Tomb

I haven't posted lately because I've been too busy at work - which is where I have access to the Internet. So I apologise that I'm only now posting a review of a concert I attended on Saturday evening.

This was a concert given by a choir called Helios, directed by Mark Sproson, at St Giles Cripplegate. The starting point for the music sung was Sproson's fortieth birthday, and included music from each of the five decades in which he's lived. An elegant conceit, and one which yielded some interesting pieces: these included Howells' sublime Take him, earth, for cherishing, written in the 1960s; Beckmann's lovely setting of Larkin's poem, The North Ship, for choir and saxophone; Cage's Ear for EAR, with five singers scattered around the church; and the best-received piece (which, ironically, was the only one not sung), Reich's Clapping Music. Judith Bingham, who attended the concert and gave a talk before the music began (which I missed, because of arriving too late) was represented by two pieces, Bach's Tomb and Lacrymosa. Unfortunately, the latter was spoiled by having to be abandoned partway through due to the saxophonist having a problem with his lip (don't ask me!).

All the pieces were very well sung by a small, flexible choir - possibly the weakest number was Sproson's own Sinatra Suite (an arrangement of Come Fly With Me, They Can't Take That Away From Me and Mack the Knife). This is a perennial problem for good classical chamber choirs - they always seem to struggle with the "lighter" numbers.

Although I hadn't heard the pieces before (Take him, earth, for cherishing being the only exception), I liked most of them enough to want to seek out recordings (if there are any), particularly of the Beckmann and Bingham numbers. What I found most fascinating, however, was Reich's Clapping Music. It's a very simple concept, like most minimalistic music, though its effects are not. Two performers clap out a twelve-quaver rhythm. Then, while one keeps clapping the same rhythm continuously, the other keeps on starting the rhythm one quaver earlier on each repetition. The effect, as each performer goes out of phase, and the rhythms beat against each other like zapateado, is very exciting, both to watch the intense concentration on each performer's face, and to hear the effects in an acoustic like St Giles.



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