Monday, April 11, 2022

Polifemy - a concert of rapturous glory

Palms / Ashes / Rebirth

Polifemy Vocal Ensemble

Wesley Uniting Church

April 10, 2022

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Polifemy music director and singer Robyn Mellor. Photo supplied.

IN A CONCERT that elevated the soul to heights of rapturous glory, Polifemy, directed by Robyn Mellor, captured the sublime compositional styles of eleven composers ranging from Medieval through Renaissance and early Baroque.

The comically named Wipo of Burgundy (c. 995 - c. 1050) composed “Victimae paschali laudes” as plainchant, the choir singing it beautifully in pitch perfect antiphon.

“Christus factus est” by Asoli followed. Influenced by Palestrina, the work was beautiful and revealed rich harmonies.

Palestrina himself was next with “Pueri Hebraeorum”, composed in 1587 in Motet form. Beginning with a plainchant introduction the piece morphed into glorious polyphony for which he was famous and was sung superbly.

Molinaro’s “Insurrexerunt in me” also from 1587 welcomed the addition of two male singers, joining the nine women. A gentle opening developed into complex polyphony showcasing enormous dynamics. It was beautifully expressive, finishing on a gentle tierce-de-picardie.

“Vere languores” by Lotti written during the High Baroque is composed in a block chordal style, the choir singing in rich harmonies, the piece featuring many suspended cadences, all beautifully sung with precision and poise.

Returning to a polyphonic style, Polifemy sang de Rore’s Easter Motet “O crux benedicta” from 1563 with style and grace.

That most famous of Medieval and Renaissance composers, Anon., followed with “Pascha nostrum”. Composed circa 1500, the piece revealed an older compositional style more aligned to Medieval music, with bare fifths and octaves in abundance.

Two pieces by William Byrd, considered one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance, both showcased a huge vocal range, with high soaring soprano lines over a solid lower foundation from the altos. “Vespere autem Sabbathi” was composed for the Paschal Vigil on Easter Saturday. “Angelis domini” which followed, is usually performed at Mass on Easter Monday.

The great master of the late Renaissance and early Baroque, Claudio Monteverdi was represented with his “Surgens Jesu” from 1582. Often credited with composing the first known opera, “L’Orfeo”, his Motet written for Easter Sunday was divine, delivered with excellent diction and pronunciation, as were all the pieces sung, ending with another beautifully crafted and sung tierce-de-picardie.

In two sections, Byrchley’s “Christus resurgens” is his only known work. Part one was sung as plainchant. Part two revealed just two vocal lines, gloriously sung.

The concert closed with “Gratias agimus tibi” by Gregor Aichinger. Written in 1600 the piece is a thanksgiving prayer from the “Gloria” section of the Sunday Mass. 

Rhythmically diverse, the full choir sang in a magnificent and uplifting manner with rich harmonies, finishing with a powerful “Amen”, and was repeated as an encore. The delighted audience responded with rapturous applause.

First published in Canberra City News on-line edition, April 11, 2022.