For their inaugural performance, the newly formed Bel a consort presented a program centred on “Requiem Mass, 1605 from composer Tomás Luis de Victoria as well as contemporaries Alonso Lobo and Jacob Clemens non Papa. The three pieces formed a harmonious concert of Renaissance sacred music.
As a subgroup of the well-established Sydney a cappella group Bel a cappella, Bel a consort is interested in performing smaller pieces ranging across genres with each concert. To open their 2019 season, Artistic Director Anthony Pasquill chose a selection of three pieces from two Spanish Renaissance composers, Tomás Luis de Victoria and Alonso Lobo, and a Dutch composer, Jacob Clemens non Papa, from the same time period. In terms of style, the pieces were remarkably similar as representations of the sacred music popular during the Counter-Reformation of the 16th century.
Opening with “Versa est in luctum” by Lobo, the group conveyed a mournful atmosphere, supported by the dim lighting, as they sing in lament to God. Even with the gloomy lyrics, the group sang with an enthusiasm that was met in equal measure by the audience who were rapt with the rhythms of this piece.
Things continued to rise with the core piece of the concert, Victoria’s “Requiem Mass, 1605”. Written in ten movements, the piece excellently demonstrates the polyphonic style of Victoria’s composition whereby he layered choral melodies throughout and brought them into harmony as the movement progressed. This style serves to create a great babbling of voices in the music that seems to fall into synchronicity like moments of sharp clarity when a voice rings through a crowd. In particular, the alto singers (Sarah Burton, Margaret Harris, and Pepe Newton) performed with a beautiful ringing tone that carried through the hall. Under the sunset-inspired lights, the length of this piece allowed for more development of feeling including more up-beat movements and discordant compositions that were either unsettling or exciting.
For the closing piece, the group sung “Egos flos campi” from Clemens. Clemens, like Victoria, was known in the Renaissance era for his sacred music compositions including many adaptations of psalms into polyphonic choral pieces. The source text for “Egos flos campi” came from the “Song of Solomon” and presents a similarly melancholy tone to the Lobo piece, hence the shared lighting state for each performance. The dark room full of enthralled audience members was evocative of how this music would have been consumed in its heyday where the Latin lyrics would have been deeply emotive and would have resonated with the Catholic listeners.
Bel a consort promises an interesting and perhaps more adaptive take on the a cappella choir with its smaller group and interest in new genres and challenges. With their traditional choices for their first concert program, the group has established themselves as connoisseurs of the choral.