December 4 2018
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Vocal perfection from The Sixteen – but was something missing?
It may seem a tad unreasonable to expect more than perfection from a concert but I did wonder if something was missing from The Sixteen’s Christmas programme – something which might have breathed more warmth onto the vocal gems clustered about the image of Christ, the Little Child.
First of all, the perfection. Under their conductor Harry Christophers The Sixteen sing as one. Their accuracy is legendary and the balance between the voices never falters: the top line gleams underpinned by rich solidity below. The sequence of 20 seasonal pieces was also well-judged, blending the familiar (It came upon the midnight clear and the Coventry Carol) with Renaissance treasures ranging from composers such as Byrd, Sheppard and Palestrina to pieces written more recently by Joseph Phibbs, Richard Rodney Bennett and Cecilia McDowell.
There were many magical moments, such as Sing Lullaby by Herbert Howells with its beautifully simple melody and hypnotically peaceful soundscape. And then there was Vox in Rama by Flemish composer Giaches de Wert with its vivid word-painting, its tone of sensuous intimacy and its demanding textures, voices stretched to their limits as the music reaches into the anguish of a mother lamenting the loss of her children. And as a complete contrast there was Bennett’s Susanni and its jazzy swing, a very modern take on the medieval text it sets.
So what was missing? The clue was in all the applause. There shouldn’t have been clapping between each of the 20 items – but there was. In fact, there was a small (easily missed) note at the foot of the programme’s first page telling the audience how to manage their applause. But how much better if Harry Christophers had welcomed the audience and briefly introduced each group of pieces. But there were no spoken words at all. Only perfection.
The Sixteen at Christmas conducted by Harry Christophers