February 4 2020
NTU Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Five beautiful voices performing as one perfectly balanced musical instrument
For those who have seen Apollo5’s YouTube performance of James Macmillan’s O Radiant Dawn and can’t believe that such perfection is possible without some smoke and mirrors, let me assure them that it is. As the five singers proved at Nottingham Trent University Hall on Tuesday. You can see why they chose this piece as the work which gives its name to their latest CD. It packs a big emotional punch right from its opening notes and is wonderfully composed for five unaccompanied voices. It demands absolute precision when it comes to tuning, phrasing and the control of dynamics. Apollo5 not only excel in every technical sense but they also bring off that rare trick, allowing their listeners to hear them both as five highly individual voices and, at the same time, as one perfectly balanced musical instrument.
Their 60-minute programme mostly featured music from their recent CD, ranging through 800 years of a capella settings of texts both sacred and secular. The earliest of their composers was Pérotin, whose Beata Viscera was performed in two versions, one for female voices and the other for the men. Their soaring purity and jewel-like radiance framed the recital. Their performance of three motets by William Byrd showed what can be achieved when the music is performed by just voice per part, enabling full justice to be done to the music’s architectural glories, both vertical and horizontal.
Two madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi expressed secular rather than sacred emotion in music that is often daringly dissonant and angular. Here, as throughout their programme, Apollo5’s uncanny accuracy and sensitivity to words made for an intensely moving experience.
There were more modern pieces too, including Fraser Wilson’s setting of Yeats’ He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven which reaches deep into the heart of the poem and which was sung with great eloquence. Vaughan Williams’ The Call, with its tune rooted in Tudor England, acted as a bridge between the centuries and was again sung with intensity and eloquence.
Apollo5 produce some of the most beautiful sounds one is ever likely to hear from the human voice and the wonderfully true acoustics of the NTU Hall enhanced the clarity and subtlety with which they mould each phrase. There was one thing missing, however. No texts or translations were provided for the audience and in the short spoken introductions there was only the occasional reference to what they were actually singing about. But perhaps beautiful sound is enough to feed the human spirit; if it is, then Apollo5’s sound surely offers a feast.
Emily Owen, soprano
Clare Stewart, soprano
Josh Coter, tenor
Oli Martin-Smith, tenor
Greg Link, bass