Monday, 12 December 2011

Matthew Cann conducts 'Antiphon' at Buckfastleigh Exciting and talented new polyphonic choir in Devon Buckfast Abbey Saturday 3 December

Matthew Cann gently guides his choir of Cathedral singers
Bass Michael Vian Clark
is also
Director of Music at 
Buckfast Abbey
On the Third of December, Lay Vicars (choral singers in cathedrals) from across the country joined up with regular members of the 'Counterpoint' choir to perform 'Antiphon'.

An antiphon is a 'responsory' chant in christian liturgy. Usually sung at vespers (the 7pm service). They can be sung by a choir or by soloist. They are based on christian scriture - usually the psalms.

During the week before christmas eve the 'O antiphons' are sung. These celebrate the different names that are given to Jesus Christ in the new testament. Jesus is addressed (in Latin) as:
'O Sapientia' (wisdom)
'O Adonai' (lord)
'O Radix Jesse' (root of Jesse)
'O Clavis David' (key of David)
'O Oriens' (east - i.e. morning star)
'O Rex Gentium' (king of the gentiles)
'O Emmanuel' (name from Isaiah - God with us)

Bass Charles Blamire-Brown
sings the Antiphon for 22nd December
'O Emmanuel'
On the 23rd of December the antiphon is to Mary:
'O Virgo Virginem' (virgin of virgins)
This last is an Anglican addition to the Catholic Liturgy.
As an alternative to one each day, all can be sung at once as at Saturday's concert. In a Catholic church, like Buckfast Abbey, they will be sung in Latin. In Exeter's Anglican cathedral they will be sung in English.

In addition to the antiphons, each sung by a soloist, the new choir 'Antiphon' sang many beautiful songs in between them. They opened with 'Rorate Coeli' (Isaiah 45.8: 'Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum' - 'Heavens fall from above and rain down righteousness'). This is from the 'divine office' (obligatory prayers) for advent. First the traditional plainsong version (from the days before harmonising was allowed by the church) was sung (from some mysterious location) by the altos, and echoed by the tenors. Eventually the altos appeared from their hiding place - in the transept - and the whole choir harmonised in William Byrd's polyphonal version from the sixteenth century (when harmonising was allowed).

The choir are phenominal, and so are the acoustics at the Abbey. Standing in the Quire their voices resonated in the transepts, sacristy, nave - and tower. Five echo chambers! In a few short minutes the choir demonstrated, not only their great talent, but also the historical transition from plainsong to harmony. Superb stuff.

A familiar alto
David Acres (front)
The choir interspersed their antiphons with more renaissance music - by Thomas Tallis and Robert Parsons, and plenty of amazing modern harmony - Gabriel Jackson, Neil Cox, Francis Poulenc, Morten Lauridsen ('O Magnum Mysterium'), Henryk Gorecki ('Totus Tuus'), Eric Whitacre ('Lux Aurumque') Kenneth Leighton ('Lully, Lulla thou little tiny child . . . '). Before a final Tallis song the choir sang the incredibly beautiful early twentieth century 'Benedicamus Domino' by Peter Warlock.

This was choral singing at its very best. Coming from all over south of England, the individual singers rehearsed only once, on Saturday afternoon. However, with their combined talent - and Matthew Cann's expert guidance - the sound at the evening's recital was sublimely beautiful. The setting was perfect and, with Father Abbot's approval, the choir sang in the perfect position to produce an unforgettable sound.

Can we hear more? Matthew has plans to reconvene 'Antiphon' in March next year - an Easter theme no doubt. Watch this space for details.

The Antiphon Choir
Conductor: Matthew Cann

Sopranos: Daisy Walford, Eleanor Lane, Emma Perona-Wright, Catherine Luke
Altos: David Acres, Lloyd Griffith, Rachel Mitchell, Stephen Power
Tenors: Thomas Castle, Edward Coton, Michael Gormley, Edward Woodhouse
Basses: Michael Vian Clark, James Hobson, Philip Webb
(Charles Blamire-Brown off-camera)

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