James Montgomery writes:
With surround sound – that’s how Sansara greeted the audience in St Peter’s Church for the second concert of this year’s Stockbridge Music series. The twenty one young singers split into smaller choirs along both side aisles to perform the complex motet Nasciens Mater by the French composer Jean Mouton (1459-1522). A divine sound enveloped the audience. Surely Mouton would have been impressed by such a faultless theatrical performance.
This outstanding singing set the tone for the entire concert, the first half devoted to more works written during the Renaissance. For its welcome return to Stockbridge, Sansara, a choir of university choral scholars and students who are mostly former Winchester Cathedral and College Choristers and Quiristers and who share the conducting, sang the music of Peter Phillips (c1560-1628), Alonso Lobo (1555-1617),Nicholas Gombert (c1495-c1560) and Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).
All these composers lived comparatively long lives – some of them rocky lives – and wrote prodigiously. Gombert’s setting of Lugebat David Absalon in which David mourns for his son Absalom killed in battle in the story from the Book of Samuel, is extraordinarily musically advanced and complex for the time. Here Sansara wrapped strange harmonic progressions and rich contrasts with their heartfelt singing.
How wonderful to hear the German Magnificat by Schütz treated with the exuberance it deserves, the musical phrases thrown deftly from one half of the choir to the other in waltz time. A joy.
The second half opened in sharp contrast. Rudolf Mauersberger (1889- 1971), director of the Dresden Boys Choir, wrote Wie Liegt die Stadt so wüst (how desolate lies the city) only days after the bombing of February 1945. The baroque style Frauenkirche, really the city’s cathedral, was the choir’s performance home until it fell in temperatures of 1000 degrees. Sansara co-founder Tom Herring read out the text before the performance. Sadly many in the church found it difficult to hear him, an argument for including translations in the concert programmes. However the moving harmonies were deeply expressive, clearly reflecting the meaning of the words. Climaxing with the cry of ‘Warum’ (‘Why’), this is literate, figurative music, not a challenging listen, nevertheless provocative. The choir excelled.
As they did with their performance of the Mass in G Minor by Vaughan Williams. Solo chants introduced the five sections of the mass which was sung with dignified richness and impeccable accuracy. Four singers moved to the church’s west end for the interpolations within the Agnus Dei. A perfect and fitting interpretation.
The concert ended suitably with Gustav Holst’s Nunc Dimittis, sung with yet more perfection and feeling. At least it should have ended there, but for the choir adding an extra piece unnecessarily. The Holst was a moving and ideal enough finish. But this is nit-picking after an evening’s rewarding reassurance that the finest English choral tradition endures in the hands of a new generation of talented young singers.