Light and shade with the Cecilian Choir

On the heels of the Chamber Choir earlier this week, the Cecilian Choir sprang back into rehearsals this afternoon, assembling to rehearse our programme for June.

The theme to this year’s programme uses movements from Victoria’s mass, O Magnum Mysterium, as a skeleton framework, which will be interspersed with other works, using the mass as the unifying thread. The programme will conclude not with Victoria’s setting of the motet, but Lauridsen’s meditative and enduringly popular incarnation.

The ‘Kyrie’ of the Mass opens with a single note, held suspended for four beats in isolation; the effect is that we don’t know what we’re hearing, which degree of the scale it is, or if it is even the tonic. The phrase descends a fifth for the second note, at which point the altos also enter, and we realise the opening note was in fact the dominant of the scale. The motionless nature of the opening contrasts with the gradual polyphonic build-up as the other voices enter and begin to weave their lines.

The Lauridsen setting requires some fine intonation, and whilst there are some beautiful colours, some of the movement between chords is not necessarily as linear as one might like – occasionally angular intervals creep in which sound lovely in context, but aren’t always going where one might expect. We explored several sonorities, practicing stepping between difficult chords to make sure we all knew where we were going.

The same is true of the last piece we rehearsed, Lauridsen’s deft, ephemeral En une seule fleur, which presents even more challenges in the same regard! Good fun, though; the programme will provide contrasting light and shade as we move from Italian polyphony to rich American colours and elsewhere.

And here’s a foretaste of the motet in a richly colourful performance from the choir of King’s, Cambridge.

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