Estonian composer Arvo Part once said that he wanted “people to find their own way into my music”. However, sometimes a helping hand is needed and when it comes to his choral music, what better a helping hand than Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen? Their concert in Perth’s St John’s Kirk was their fourth successive appearance at the Perth Festival of the Arts, and as usual the kirk was packed to the gunnels.
Christophers’ decision to pair the music of part with that of William Byrd, was surprising but each composer’s music complimented the other, despite the separation of 400 years. With a bit of Thomas Tallis added to the mix, the end result was a typically majestic performance from the singers, their ease of delivery belying the difficulty of the music.
Tallis was added so we could compare his take on the Woman With The Alabaster Box to that of Part’s. I’m afraid the five male voices of the Tallis just couldn’t beat the multi-layered version of Part.
Otherwise it was straight alternation between the renaissance polyphone of Byrd and Part’s 20th century harmonies. On occasion, it was hard to differentiate as Part’s close harmony vied with Byrd’s more structured scoring. However, the one thing that united the two composers was the performance of the ensemble.
The phrasing was sublime and the balance as perfect as could be. Three-part, six-part or even eight-part, Christophers caresses each line as if it was his own, his deftness of direction typically astounding. This was, again, a master-class from a group who undoubtedly deserve the title “world class”.