Friday, June 29, 2012

Music for St Peter and Paul: change at the Vatican

How things have changed!
When the Americans invaded Panama and President Noriega fled his palace and sought the protection of the Apostolic Nunciature rather than invade Sovereign Vatican territory the American invaders set up huge "ghetto blasters" and bombarded the embassy with extraordinary loud pop music. Apparently it took the personal intervention of Pope John Paul II with the US President to stop the American aggression. Some Roman wags suggested that the Pope had to threaten to send the Sistine choir round to sing outside American Embassy, so ghastly were the choir. Under Benedict and Mgr Marini the choir have got a lot better. Today they were augmented by the choir of Westminster Abbey, its quite beautiful; but is that slightly grating sound in the background the home team?


Robert said...

Now that was awesome!!. Two great choirs. Wish it could be like that all the time!.:)

Warren Anderson said...

While the collaboration is to be lauded as a musical ecumenical endeavour worthy of "warm applause", the musical or artistic result, to these trained ears, does not merit a "standing ovation".

1. The combination of the two groups exposed some very obvious problems, the least of which being the intonation problems, especially the drift in pitch at climaxes and releases at softer dynamics.

2. The precision and clarity of Westminster was lost and at times the sturdy Vatican crew became tentative and limp.

3. What occurred was syncretism, not synthesis. Wildly different concepts of diction, placement and shape of vowels, and competing ideas about phrase shape confirmed a collision of conceptual frameworks and resulted in a conflicted presentation.

4. The problems were made visible by the differing approaches of the respective conductors.

The Westminster director, by-and-large, gave well defined gestures responsive to the text. I.e., the text painting was effective. However, at times both conductor and singers dove into their scores and ignored each other contributing to a consistent loss of energy through the middles of phrases.

St. Peter's, by contrast, was physical, at times far too forceful which produced distended, over romanticized lines (Palestrina or Puccini, what'll it be?) and confusion because of a highly controlling and combative chironomy that robbed singers of a necessary freedom. The result: phrase endings were fragmented; with respect to sound or tonal character, the differences between the ensembles were magnified; phrase shaping was obliterated.

5. There were some fine moments. The level of the presentation was moderately high (as it should be), but hardly sublime (as it could be).

Rather than art, this was art therapy: the English being the physician to the Roman patient.

Fr Ray Blake said...

"this was art therapy: the English being the physician to the Roman patient."
Yes, quite.

The Capella are not really known for hitting the right note but it is much, much better than even five years ago.
As for the rest I am sure you are right. One serious problem is the men are from the operatic chorus tradition, which is rarely that good in Italy, they don't feel Church music.
It is good they weren't singing chant!

Animadversor said...

"The Capella are not really known for hitting the right note...." You made me laugh out loud, something I needed. Thanks.

Physiocrat said...

Not my cup of tea. Sounded harsh. The Tu es Petrus was horrible. Brompton Oratory are still number one for me. The choice at Oxford is strange at times. There seems to be little decent Catholic church music written after about 1800, though Bruckner, Faure, Poulenc, Messaien, and Duruffle are notable exceptions.

Trying to pull together the people who want better music here. The quality of the singing is first rate (it generally is in Sweden), but the choice of music lets it down too often.

Joseph Golightly said...

Of course the Westminster "director" is a catholic and used to be at Westminster Cathedral. I understand that it is sometimes difficult to work out the differences between those choirs

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Was it the 'home team' who looked 'unruffled' or were they the ones a bit 'ruff' at the edges?

MC Man said...

Music aside,watching the Pope distribute Holy Communion to a long line of communicants with reverance and total focus on each person was a joy to behold this is how it should allways be done by every priest.Also a return to recieving Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue would help bring back reverance which is sometimes sadly lacking in our parishes.

Anonymous said...

His Holiness should just hire a Brit to deal with the Sistine Screamers.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...