Sunday, January 22, 2023

All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Heading to London last Sunday for Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion premiere, I stopped by in Cambridge for a quick afternoon diversion. A backwater sanctuary, off the beaten tourist trail, All Saints’ was built in the 1860s opposite the gates of Jesus College. Its Pre-Raphaelite/Arts and Crafts stained-glass windows, particularly luminescent in winter sunlight, were designed by, among others, Ford Madox Brown, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The prospect of an hour or so of mulled wine and music drew a sizeable audience. Guy James (The Gesualdo Six), countertenor and director of Chapel Perilous – founded in 2019 as “a chamber music project to explore repertoire that might not find a home elsewhere” – offered a cleverly designed, balanced programme in three parts, High Middle Ages/late-twentieth-century, focussing on five composers: Hildegard von Bingen, Arvo Pärt, Giacinto Scelsi, Mátyás Seiber, and John Tavener. Seiber’s Graces (1958) were so brief as to be little more than a comma (Joseph Wicks, The Gesualdo Six). Scelsi’s Three Latin Prayers for solo voice (1972) suffused in instrumental form: oboe, No.1 ‘Ave Maria’ (Peter Facer, Britten Sinfonia); violin, No.2 ‘Pater Noster’ (Karolina Csáthy, Accordare); viola No.3 ‘Alleluia’ (Emily White, Guildhall School of Music and Drama). Music, considering some of Scelsi’s earlier experimental canvases, of notable purity of line and rhythm. Hauntingly suspended. Pärt on this occasion did less for me. Opening with his Lord’s Prayer (1999), arranged by Barry Rose, Tavener did more, the matured beauty of The Hidden Face (1996) involving expressive spatial effects. Candles, incense, a gradual fade into the distance followed by a long-held silence at the end (James keen to emphasise the whole concert as a flowing experience, from nothing to nothing, not to be marred by disruptive applause), left an indelible impression, circling sounds and nuanced atmosphere intentionally central to the performance. Transcendentally sublime, the delirious melismas and arches of Hildegard von Bingen’s twelfth-century Ave Maria, O autrix vite (Responsorio da Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum) made for a spell-casting, resonating highlight, Karolina’s liquid soprano blending mellifluously, eternally, with Guy’s vocals, viola and organ (William Mason) droning a soft pedal that within it seemed to all but hold the world and time. As enriching and thought provoking a concert, emotionally and spiritually, as anything larger scaled. Rewarding.

London Philharmonic Orchestra – UK premiere of Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion.