Collegium and Choir Perform Their Strengths
Last Friday, Nov. 30, the day of the season’s first snowfall, Collegium Musicum of Oberlin College gave its only concert for the semester. Fairchild Chapel was packed and splitting along the edges; students and community members were leaning against the walls and warming up the floor.
Under the title Ars Britannica: Music from English Chapels, Steven Plank’s a capella choir delivered a poised performance — although somewhat disturbed by certain choir members’ body motions. The concert presented various sacred pieces by Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins and Henry Purcell, all Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal in the royal court first during the rule of Elizabeth I and later, during the reign of Charles II.
The energetic set, beginning with Lift up Your Heads by Gibbons, demonstrated Collegium’s strengths in ensemble, producing a delightfully homogeneous sound. The group’s soft pallet continued to show through William Byrd’s motet Ne irascaris Domine with a particularly sweet entrance at the next to the last phrase, Sion is become a wilderness, elevating the spirit through its clean, homophonic texture.
Byrd’s Romanism was apparent in his Mass for Five Voices, movements of which were scattered throughout the concert. Overlapping voices characterized the Kyrie, while the dotted rhythm in the Gloria and Credo achieved a certain sadness of tone. Sanctus was performed by 14 specific members of Collegium and bore an intimate, chamber atmosphere, in which a plea could be heard, especially on the word “Domine.” The Agnus Dei was the expressive climax of the mass, and the flow of the performance was admirable.
Two solo organ voluntaries were inserted at key moments in the program. Organist Jeffrey Wood selected Thomas Tomkins’ works, simple compositions that provided a good balance against the complex pieces sung by the choir.
Henry Purcell, the child of a more cosmopolitan and modern England, was represented by O God, the King of Glory — a piece with majestic character and intricate harmonic changes that gave Collegium room to show off more of its sense of musical unity. Hear my Prayer, O Lord was surprisingly dissonant and the gathering of tension towards the relieving climax filled Fairchild Chapel with the choir’s warm, yet powerful sound.
During Remember not, Lord, our offenses, with its large dynamic scale and the chromatic alteration, swells in the merging voices nicely prepared the sweetness of the funeral sentence Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of our Heart. Its relatively simple, clean structure was described as “Rightly fitted and adapted to devotional purposes” by Thomas Tudway, organist at King’s College, Cambridge, at the time of its performance at the funeral of Queen Mary.
Byrd reappeared at the end of the concert with Ave verum corpus’s lucid sound and closed the program with O lux beata Trinitas. The latter, an exuberant praise of the Trinity, referred to the very first piece heard that night and nicely wrapped up Collegium Musicum’s concert.