This is the fourth time Sansara have performed for Stockbridge Music. The choir has grown fast in stature here and abroad, and it’s difficult to avoid endless superlatives about their singing. Here are three prestigious plaudits: the composer Sir James McMillan ‘truly special, a brilliant new choir’; the Observer ‘perfect intonation, clean pure sound, choral singing with real depth’; Peter Phillips, founder and director of the Tallis Scholars ‘…they think so intelligently about the music, they know how to blend with each other’.
So it was with this Remembrance concert, titled ‘For the Fallen’. The Sansara Consort, as they’re now called, have no fixed number of singers. For their debut CD for example, which incidentally has also been washed with praise, they needed twenty four. However, here there were only nine. No conductor, because these singers possess sixth sense. Their accuracy is impeccable, ensemble extraordinary, hard vocal entry sounds such as an a or a c sung as one.
Their purity of sound infused ten works. These were simply listed in the audience programmes due to printer problems. No detail or translation. But this mattered little. The packed church was mesmerised by the beautiful singing and the music which was nearly all from the sixteenth century, spellbound by Sansara’s astonishing musicality.
All the texts reflected death and redemption, pleas for mercy and for peace, heresy denounced and grief consoled. Inspirational works by two twentieth century composers complemented the others, Da pacem Domine by the Estonian Arvo Pärt, sung with wonderfully devotional commitment, and Sir John Tavener’s Funeral Ikos. This was quite exceptional singing, a unique interpretation, spot on.
In addition to four pieces by William Byrd, there were compositions by Nicolas Gombert from Flanders, who was scooped up by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles 5th into his travelling court and is credited for introducing polyphonic music to the Spanish peninsula; the prodigious Flemish writer Giaches de Wert one of whose landmarks was writing for an expert Italian women’s group Concerto delle Donne (nothing is new); and Robert White whose writing was advanced for the time and is notable for his Old Testament inspired Lamentations, one of them sung so expertly here.
How things have moved on since 2013 when a group of former Winchester choristers and quiristers first formed Sansara. Since then they’ve achieved stratospheric award winning musical heights and plan to become a registered charity. Their foundations though remain in Winchester. What a privilege to have witnessed the birth, and now the young adulthood of the Sansara Consort.