Thursday, July 19, 2007

Proms 6&7 (Radio 3)

I dashed home after Ives and caught the first Late-Night Prom on Radio 3 (I might have stayed, but I'd never have got home). This was notable as it had made the news bulletins the previous day, featuring as it did the first modern performance of a Mass by Alessandro Striggio, a composer at the court of the Medicis, in which the choir divides into 40, and later 60, parts. If you know your early music this will sound familiar, as it was this mass, as well as a motet in 40 parts by Striggo, that inspired the Duke of Norfolk to ask aloud if there was an English composer who could match this feat, to which the answer was yes - Thomas Tallis stepped up to the challenge and composed his own 40-part motet, Spem in alium. All three of these works were performed here, and there's no denying that the sheer gloss of sound in so many independent voices sounding together is overwhelming. It should also be noted that Tallis comes out on top as the better composer (to these ears, at least), but the Striggio works were very much worth hearing, and the final Agnus Dei of the mass, where the choir divides into 60, was an extraordinary and special moment, a shimmering, gossamer texture that wafted the scent of the divine even into this embittered atheist's soul.

Last night's concert was equally special, the combined forces of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre national de France coming together under the baton of Kurt Masur (celebrating his 80th birthday) to perform Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings and Bruckner's Symphony No.7. Tchaikovsky has such a reputation as a Russian misreablist that it's refreshing to hear a piece like this, all light and joy. At the risk of sounding like a Classic FM DJ, this really is music to soothe the soul. Bruckner is a composer I've taken a long time to appreciate - as a shallow youth I dismissed him as long-winded and dull, but I've come to realise how wrong I was, and that he's a unique composer of almost transcendental qualities, whose occupation of space-time chimes strongly with Tallis and Striggio's clouds of sound.

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