Last night’s rehearsal had a distinctly cosmopolitan flavour, as the Choir looked at English, Scottish, American, German and Italian repertoire: we’re nothing if not international in our programme outlook!
Brahms’ In Stiller Nacht has really found its feet, and we’ve been developing the really pernickety aspects of the texture; the detached crotchets in phrases had us, as one, tip-toeing through the chords with a terrific sense of fragility.
We’ve been looking for landmarks in Monteverdi’s Ecco mormorar l’onde, for specific moments of coming together, cadence points, beginnings of phrases, to give the piece a geographical sense; with long, meandering lines, the danger is that the piece simply becomes a collection of voices singing through lines without any sense of direction. (Anyone who has sung one of Byrd’s four- or five-part Mass settings will have found this before). The trick is making sense of the lines, using the starts of phrases and the commencement of new ideas (both harmonically as well as in terms of the text) to give the piece some three-dimensionality – guiding the listener through the piece by highlighting particular moments.
Bennett’s O Sleep, fond fancy occupies a similar landscape to the same composer’s Weep, O Mine Eyes, and needs similar moulding to the Monteverdi. In contrast, Sir John Stephenson’s arrangement of the Scottish air, Oft in the stilly night, is a simpler, homophonic piece that came together very quickly.
Most of the rehearsal was taken up with defining the chordal progressions in Whitacre’s Sleep, particular the opulent third section where the harmonic language opens out, the texture broadens as the sopranos soar upwards; key to this is actually the bass-part, making sure the root of each chord has a solid foundation. We’re still experimenting with mixed-formation singing, and this piece will really test the integrity of the individual voices; in order for the colours to blossom, each singer needs to have confidence in their line, to enjoy the dissonances and added-note sonorities and commit to the colours of each chord.
We concluded with one of the carols for next week’s Cathedral Carol Service, the evocative opening verses of Once in Royal, which this year features soprano Marina Ivanova conjuring up the magic of Christmas in the solo opening verse, before the rich harmonies unfold in the a cappella second verse as the Choir enters. It promises to be a magical moment in the Cathedral…
And, as if there isn’t enough to be excited about, this morning I’ve raided our sheet-music archive for copies of Lauridsen’s deftly lyrical En une seule fleur for the Cecilian Choir’s rehearsal tomorrow. Can’t wait…
(Preview track via LastFM).