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Music Review: The Choral Pilgrimage at York - The Sixteen

By Steve Jadd | 12th July 2016

The Sixteen

The Sixteen (Molinavisuals)

The National Centre for Early Music as part of the York Early Music Festival and York Minster’s annual concert featured The Deer’s Cry performed by The Sixteen.

Directed by conductor and founder Harry Christophers, The Sixteen are recognised as one of the world’s greatest choral ensembles. Within the gothic surroundings of York Minster’s Nave their performance celebrates the music of William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Arvo Pärt; composers from very different eras, considered masters of sacred music regardless of them all encountering considerable persecution for their work.

Arvo Pärt (born 11 September 1935) is an Estonian composer who spent his early life living in Soviet-controlled Estonia before fleeing persecution to live in Austria and Germany. Pärt’s music with its sanctified minimalist quality literally aches with humanity. Four hundred years earlier the composers William Byrd and his teacher Thomas Tallis lived in an England whose political and religious landscape being volatile suffered from similar adversity and persecution.

Although separated by over four centuries, in each case the choral writing has simplicity and intensity. Perfectly suited to the blended sound of The Sixteen each performance was eloquently delivered and possessed total clarity. The result was a haunting monastic sound that ebbed and flowed throughout the hallowed Minster Nave. The Sixteen performed beautifully Arvo Pärt’s Nunc Dimittis, a work which at times appeared transcendental, being both tender and serene then bursting out into exuberant joy. The Woman with the Alabaster Box is even more astonishing with Jesus’ words movingly delivered and made even more powerful by the silences. The Deer’s Cry, proved a moving performance of an incantation set to music, a prayer for protection attributed to St Patrick.

The performance of the music of Tallis and his student Byrd proved equally exhilarating and compelling. Both composers having spent many years facing adversity and persecution sought solace through their sacred music. Performances included Tallis /Byrd Miserere Nostri and Tallis’s When Jesus Went

The Sixteen delivered a great evening of sacred music - A magical occasion.

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