St Petersburg, Concert Hall

From the Renaissance to the Baroque


First concert of the thirty-seventh subscription

PERFORMERS:
The Festino chamber chorus
The Intrada vocals ensemble
Conductor: Peter Phillips


PROGRAMME:
Jacquet de Mantua
The motet Spem in alium

Giovanni Palestrina
The mass Spem in alium

Johann Sebastian Bach
The motet Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230

Gregorio Allegri
The motet Miserere

Giovanni Palestrina
The motet Dum complerentur

Hieronymus Praetorius
Magnificat in the 5th Tone

Giovanni Palestrina
The motet Nunc dimittis

Johann Sebastian Bach
The motet Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229

Thomas Tallis
The motet Spem in alium

 

About the Concert

The 15th-17th centuries marked the period of the dawn of European vocal polyphony, when incredibly complex vocal counterpoint was to be heard not just in the context of the church but also in the homes of enlightened citizens.
One of the most famous maestri of the age was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525–1594) – the chorus master of St Peter’s Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel. It was from him that the Tridentum (Trento) Cathedral commissioned a trial mass which was to prove the possibility of the existence of polyphonic music within the framework of divine worship (it was considered that refined polyphonic technique damaged the clarity of prayer). Da Palestrina coped with the task brilliantly; even during his lifetime the composer had thirteen volumes of his masses published. The complexity of da Palestrina’s polyphonic technique remains intangible for audiences thanks to the clarity, harmony and melodious plasticity of its music. Many of the masses make use of the then widespread technique of parody or exact quotations from other people’s musical material. It is used in the mass Spem in alium (“Hope in Any Other Have I None”, 1570), based on the four-voice motet using the same text by Jacquet of Mantua (1539).
At the same time that da Palestrina’s mass was written, one of the most grandiose choral works of all times and peoples was composed in the British Isles - Thomas Tallis’ forty-voice motet Spem in alium. It would be more correct to call it a motet for eight five-voiced choruses. The motet makes use of not just imitation but of an antiphonal principle too, meaning an alternating sequence of the sounds of the choral groups, resulting in effects of echo and question-and-answer. In the final culmination all forty voices resound at the same time.
Da Palestrina also produced some three hundred religious motets, works in the refined and complex genre of vocal polyphonic music that emerged as far back as the 12th century. One of the most important features of the first motets was their multi-textual nature – at one and the same time they included texts in different languages and with different content, both secular and spiritual.
Renaissance motets were written using just one literary source in Latin, although the practice of pronouncing the words at different times was retained. It was following this principle that da Palestrina constructed his motets Nunc dimittis and Dum complerentur, composed using texts from the Holy Scriptures.
In Germany during the Baroque era motets were vocal or vocal and instrumental works in a free polyphonic style set to a German text.
Bach’s eight motets are the culmination of the development of the genre. The brilliant use of polyphonic techniques allows us to refer to them as motet fugues. Such is the eight-voice funereal motet with basso continuo Komm, Jesu, Komm, which was composed between 1724 and 1731. Here Bach used the first and the last couplets from verse by the Leipzig poet Paul Thymich. In the motet Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden we hear verse from the 117th Psalm. As this was published only in the 19th century and is stylistically different to Bach’s other motets its authorship is disputed.
Hieronymus Praetorius (1560–1629) – not to be confused with the famous Michael Praetorius – was a German composer of the late Renaissance. He was one of the first in northern Europe to begin using the multi-choral style born at St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice in his own religious works. At that cathedral it was possible to stand not just in the choir but also on the tribunes at both sides of the altar and the balconies of the transept. The alternating singing of the choruses on opposite sides of the cathedral proved highly effective and soon became a fashion popular throughout Europe.
Praetorius’ works include Magnificat, a song from Catholic vespers that served as the culmination of the service. Until the middle of the 15th century Magnificat had been a one-voice song and was performed to one of the eight psalm tones (melody models). Later multi-voice arrangements appeared in which the psalm melody was used as the basis of the composition – cantus firmus.
In Praetorius’ Magnificat the even-numbered verses are sung by several voices and the odd-numbered ones by a single voice. This technique was called alternatim, meaning “in turn”.
There is yet another masterpiece of Renaissance polyphony in Miserere mei, Deus by Gregorio Allegri, a motet to a text from a penitential psalm (Have mercy on me, God), which was performed at the Sistine Chapel once a year during Holy Week. There was no access to the score for a long time and the sheet music for Miserere, to which only chapel musicians could gain access, was not to be copied on pain of excommunication from the Church. This ban was lifted when, in 1770, after visiting the chapel the fourteen-year-old Mozart wrote down from memory the hidden work. He was not excommunicated; quite the reverse, Pope Clement XIV awarded the genius with the knight’s order of the Golden Spur.
Miserere is performed by two choruses – one four-voice and one five-voice, one of which sings the Gregorian chorale and the second, separated from the first in terms of space, responds with ornamented commentary. After the ban was lifted Allegri’s work became one of the most frequently performed a cappella choral works. The first audio recording, however, was only produced in 1963 by King’s College Choir (Cambridge). This year saw the release of a recording by the Sistine Chapel Choir.
Leila Abbasova

About the performers

The Festino chamber chorus was founded in 2008 and was named in honour of Adriano Banchieri’s madrigal comedy Festino nella sera del giovedì grasso.
The ensemble’s Artistic Director and Conductor is Alexandra Makarova. The chorus performs Renaissance and Baroque music and works by contemporary composers and collaborates with Russian and European early music ensembles.
In 2012 the Festino chorus took part in the I Open Academy of Baroque Opera directed by Andrew Lawrence-King and Marco Beasley, while in 2014 it took part in the MolOt festival and the contemporary music festival From the Avant-Garde to the Present Day. The same year, the musicians of Festino became the main performers in the musical puppet performance Leningrad Suite, dedicated to the seventieth anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad (with the children’s theatre Puppets). The chorus is a guest ensemble of the Bolshoi Tovstonogov Drama Theatre, at which it appears in the play What to Do? (staged by Andrei Moguchy to music by Nastasia Khrushcheva).
March 2015 saw the premiere of a co-production by the TRU theatre and the Festino chorus of A New Day (music by Nastasia Khrushcheva).
The ensemble won the Grand Prix at the Northern Bel Canto international chorus competition in Stnbsp;Petersburg and 1st prize at the International Chorus Competition in Miltenberg (Germany).


The vocal ensemble Intrada was founded in 2006 on the initiative of Yekaterina Antonenko, who became its Music Director. The ensemble specialises in performing early music and appears with such conductors as Vladimir Jurowski, Alexei Utkin, Alexander Rudin, Christopher Moulds, Peter Phillips, Federico Maria Sardelli, Peter Neumann and Frieder Bernius. In September 2015 the ensemble represented Russia at an arts festival in Dresden. The ensemble has also taken part in Moscow’s Christmas Festival, the festivals December Evenings of Sviatoslav Richter, Early Music, Ambassadors’ Gifts and The Return.
The ensemble Intrada regularly collaborates with leading Russian orchestras. Together with the State Academic Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra of Russia under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski the musicians have performed highlights from Purcell’s opera The Fairy Queen and Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while together with the Russian National Orchestra it has performed Haydn’s Nelson Mass and Mozart’s Requiem.
The ensemble has also participated in a concert performance of Handel’s opera Hercules together with Ann Hallenberg and Lucy Crowe (conducted by Christopher Moulds, 2013), the 1771 Paris version of Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice together with Colin Lee and Deborah York (conducted by William Lacey, 2014) and Handel’s opera Alcina together with Inga Kalna, Vivica Genaux, Patricia Bardon and Benjamin Hulett (conducted by Federico Maria Sardelli, 2015).
During the exchange year of culture of Great Britain and Russia the Intrada ensemble and Peter Phillips launched the Festival in Memory of John Tavener. The festival concerts took place in September 2014 at the Rachmaninoff and Great Halls of the Moscow Conservatoire together with the ensemble Tallis Scholars and soprano Julia Lezhneva. In June 2015 the ensemble performed every motet by Bach under the baton of Frieder Bernius at the Rachmaninoff Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire.
The ensemble Intrada has also presented the Russian premieres of the works So You Want to Write a Fugue by Glenn Gould, Four2 by John Cage, Lied by Andrei Volkonsky and the Russian premiere of David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion.
Recordings of concerts by the Intrada ensemble have been broadcast by Kultura TV, Radio Russia, Orpheus, Svoboda Radio, Moscow Talking and Voice of Russia.

Age category 6+

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