Sister AND still they turn up. Before
No, this crowd was not for the Singing Nun, but for a nun who sings. Sister
But she is so unique that her return on Wednesday, with her Ensemble of Peace - six singers and no instruments - furnished a glorious platform from which to hear music from the very beginnings of what we might call, laughably, now, in a desperate world, Western civilisation and its eastern origins. Look at the great sources of this music, including
The programme layout was difficult to follow - it lacked clarity and succinctness - but that nun's voice, soaring reverentially in chants, hymns, celebrations and contemplations - now rhapsodic, now ecstatic and impassioned, now subdued to intimacy over the constant pedal point provided by her six male voices, and always with a florid, Eastern tinge to its melody - sang to the hearts of its listeners. It was alluring and magical in its purity and honesty.
It seems more recently, but apparently it is a decade since Britten's great scoring of the Latin Mass and the poetry of
Of course there was a very different group of lads in the NYCoS National Boys Choir, who sang it last time, and the Festival Chorus has done a fair bit of growing up over the past 10 years as well, but more of them anon.
Britten's War Requiem is great music at least partly because it is a careful schematic success. The nationality of the soloists was broadly adhered to here: soprano Albina Shagimuratova from
The men perform the poetry, supported by a chamber ensemble; the soprano, chorus and boys sing the Mass, but the ingredients become increasingly intermingled and overlap as the narrative unfolds.
And of that trio, it was the chorus that made the night. Chorusmaster Christopher Bell can be as proud of them as he is of the Boys Choir.
The quartet was established in 1989 and has had several personnel changes since, including the recent addition of Latvian violinist Vineta Sareika as leader. All four members share an airy, unshowy virtuosity: nothing they do is ponderous. Could I recognise their sound in a line-up of other good young string quartets? Possibly not, but that's in no way to diminish their skill or commitment.
Above all they're known for
We had the luxury of hearing the first movement of Schubert's Death and the Maiden twice when Sareika snapped a string and had no option but to leave the stage and mend it.
She returned with composure intact and the second hearing underlined just how meticulous the quartet's preparation must be: every phrase was recreated with the same acute nuances.
Overall, their performance was full of crisp rhythms and brisk tempos. Schubert's sorrow was bracing rather than all-engulfing and inconsolable. Whether that's enough depends on each listener's appetite for anguish. For me, it was all just a shade too bright.
AND still they turn up. Before