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Signatures in Sound: sacred music by Josquin, Lassus and Pärt

Saturday 13th May 2017 - 7:30pm

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, EC1A 2DQ

Guest Director: James Davey

In this concert we explored sacred music by three composers with immediately recognisable, utterly distinctive musical styles, all motivated by a desire to express the essence of the texts they set. Arvo Pärt is the featured composer of the 2017 London international a cappella choral competition (LIACCC), in which the Renaissance Singers will participate this summer. As with so much of our repertoire, Pärt’s music draws upon the timeless working music of the Church – Gregorian chant – set within a simple, triadic harmonic language. In this concert, we performed his Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, two works in his purified, mystical tintinnabuli style.

Pärt’s settings of these canticles were paired with those of our two other featured composers, Orlando Lassus and Josquin des Prez. In fact, the authenticity of the latter’s Nunc dimittis is open to question but its attribution to the Renaissance master is understandable, as it features his characteristic expressive simplicity and melodic imitation. Undeniably by Josquin, his masterpiece Praeter Rerum Seriem – which we also sang – was so popular that it spawned not only a mass setting by Cipriano de Rore (previously programmed) but also a sparkling Magnificat by Orlando Lassus, which we performed in this concert.

Lassus’s own masterpiece, the motet cycle Prophetiae Sibyllarum, differs considerably in style from the Magnificat and is a world away from Josquin. Featuring extreme chromaticism and constant modulation, it was an experimental early composition never published during the composer’s lifetime that plunges us into Lassus’s unmistakeable soundworld, reminiscent of subsequent works such as Timor et tremor.

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