Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A complex tapestry of smooth silk

I really didn't want to go out last night, and as usual, when this happens, I ended up being so glad I did.

Elder daughter works for the Ottawa Chamberfest, so we have season tickets, of course. Still jet-lagged, I clambered ponderously up into the balcony of Dominion-Chalmers United Church, the sanctuary glowing golden in the early evening sun of midsummer to hear a quintet specializing in early music called Cinquecento. I imagined they might be something like the King's Singers.

Well, not quite.

Five men duly appeared below, in dark but casual suits with open-necked shirts in muted shades of blue, green, silver, rose, and purple. They passed a tuning fork like a cigarette between them, opened their mouths and the most full and beautiful notes flowed out and filled the church.

They were singing, mostly in Latin, pieces by 16th century English composers: Tallis, Byrd, and Tye. All the pieces were ethereal and lovely, but I particularly liked a Tallis Vespers (or Compline?) prayer Te lucis ante terminum (sung in two different settings, at different points of the concert) which begins with the voices singing plainsong before splitting off into complex skeins of colour.

The English translation, which says in part: ". . .From all ill dreams defend our eyes/ From nightly fears and fantasies/ Tread underfoot our ghostly foe . . . ." had a certain appeal for me.

I'm still a little bit in outgoing Victoria mode, so at intermission, I struck up a conversation with the fellow in our pew, who I'd noticed drinking in the music with eyes closed. It turned out he's in a choir, and he had interesting observations about how the quintet spent the first three numbers subtly adjusting to the scope and acoustics of the church. Remarkably he had not heard of the 40 Part Motet at the National Gallery. (Gee, I hope it's still there.)

I don't often stand for standing ovations, because I think Ottawa audience stand for pretty well everything. I stood this time. They gave an encore of a 16th century setting of Ave Maria.

It wasn't this one, but it's the only video I can find of Cinquecento in action. It was recorded last year. It's beautiful.

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