Gretta and I heard the Choir of Trinity College on 9/15/19. I didn't know this before the concert, but we had both worked with their conductor, Stephen Layton - - we sang in John Tavener's *The Veil of the Temple* at Avery Fisher Hall back in 2004. It was an evening-long work, a vigil from 10:30 PM to 5:30 AM. THAT was an experience, and Layton was such a galvanizing and deeply musical presence as our conductor.
The Choir of Trinity College is a highbrow college choir. They were extraordinary, they had a clean, warm, colorful sound. They had a darling low affect style of presentation - - a slight smile, the raise of an eyebrow. Many singers stood with their hands folded, which I don't think I'd seen before. That was cute. Gretta pointed out what a treat it was so watch Layton conduct, and he was indeed very clear and expressive, he really put across the power of the music and emphasized a grounded way of singing.
I'll give you a few highlights (I've listed the full program below). The Amen at the end of "O Lord, make thy servant, Elizabeth" was ravishingly beautiful. Here's a recording by the Tallis Scholars (the Amen comes in at 2:15):
There was an organ interlude, a prelude and fugue by Bach.
The choir planted their flag with the first set as being superior singers of early music, so it was a treat to hear them singing the Arvo Pärt with a new flavor and texture. They went straight into the Tavener from the Pärt, that was a nice transition. The Kalinnikov was gorgeous, I'd never heard of him before. It was heavy on the bass.
Layton said that the Robert Parsons "Ave Maria" was "maybe the single greatest piece written in England in the 16th century," that it surpasses anything by Byrd or Tallis, and that the Amen looks ahead to Wagner, Bruckner, and Strauss. I thought it was beautiful but not really All That - - and the Amen sounded nothing like Wagner, Bruckner, or Strauss. Of course these opinions (his and mine) are completely objective, but especially with the Wagner, Bruckner, and Strauss comparison, come on. If you're going to compare a piece of music by one of those three guys, there has to be at least ONE harmonic sharp left turn. This piece may have had the driver looking wanly over his shoulder at his blind spot, but that's as far as it went. Please.
Ēriks Ešenvalds is another name I'd never heard. The piece was gorgeous, distinctive, bold, and it deserves to be heard a lot. The Lauridsen was lovely but limp in comparison. Layton said that the Mäntyjärvi had "whiffs of the Baltic frozen North," and you certainly could smell that whiff. That piece was the highlight of the program, it took my breath away, wildly demanding, a tour de force for the choir and the composer. Here's a performance by the Uppsala Akademiska Kammarkör:
Another interlude - - Layton said who wrote it, but I couldn't understand what he said. A French composer, Jean something, died in WW II at the age of 29. It sounded like baby Messaien to me.
The first Howells had an interesting structure: the first stanza was in unison, then the second in two parts, then the third in many parts. It opened up like a rose! A stunning piece of music, so assured, nothing wasted or superfluous. The last piece (another Howells) was the only piece for choir and organ, and it was marvelous.
I thought it was interesting that they didn't program any American music. Well, be careful what you wish for, because their encore was a groovy arrangement of "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." The kids sang it with charm, but I'm afraid in their case, it really don't mean a thing.
Sing joyfully (William Byrd)
O Lord, make thy servant, Elizabeth (Byrd)
Salvator mundi (Thomas Tallis)
Thou knowest, Lord (Henry Purcell)
Organ interlude (Bach)
Bogoróditse Djévo (Arvo Pärt)
Mother of God, here I stand (John Tavener)
Bogoróditse Djévo (Victor Kalinnikov)
Ave Maria (Robert Parsons)
The heavens' flock (Ēriks Ešenvalds)
O magnum mysterium (Morten Lauridsen)
Richte mich, Gott (Jaako Mäntyjärvi)
Organ interlude (unknown 20th century composer)
Take him, earth, for cherishing (Herbert Howells)
Nunc Dimitis (Howells)