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Polyphony: A Concert of Renaissance Masterpieces

The epoch of Polyphony in European choral music spans about four centuries – usually reckoned from about 1200 AD to 1600. Primarily sacred, though not always, the style concentrates on the interweaving of vocal lines in which the ‘melody’ rarely repeats, while the text is elaborated in consonances that strive for an ever greater harmonic beauty. Polyphony is particularly suited to Cantorum’s abilities, blend and quality, and although some of this programme was obviously more of a specialist taste than some familiar works in our repertoire, it was still a great pleasure to see All Saints’ Marlow full between the pillars right to the back of the nave. And the audience was not disappointed! Particular highlights were the Palestrina and the English Madrigal selection. The Byrd Mass for Five Voices was the final work of the evening, offering a haunting glimpse into those mysteries of English church music still faintly surviving (though of course in comparative secrecy, because Byrd was a catholic) into the last years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The choir’s performance was especially magical.

In keeping with the character of the evening, we were privileged to be able to include a twenty minute lute recital during the first half of the programme. It was given by Sam Brown, a young and brilliant lutenist just returned from developing the study of his instrument in Italy. Sam’s technique and musicality were a delight—it was such a rare pleasure to hear this delicate and intimate instrument filling the quiet, just as it would have done in the high and often vaulted spaces of the renaissance period.