UK based vocal octet VOCES8 sang Tuesday night at St. James Anglican Cathedral. The whole thing was arranged by Daniel Taylor of the Theatre of Early Music at the UoT and marked VOCES8’s Canadian debut. I confess to a weakness for choral music in the Anglican tradition so this was a welcome opportunity to hear some very highly regarded performers. They didn’t disappoint. They are a finely tuned and highly skilled group.
It was, in some senses, a wide ranging programme. Composers ranged from Jake Runestad, who is still alive, to William Byrd, who isn’t. There was very early Renaissance polyphony from the likes of Byrd, Gibbons and De Victoria through the more transitional methods of Palestrina and Monteverdi to modern minimalism and, along the way, the ceremonious sonorities of Parry and Elgar. The texts, unsurprisingly, were either taken from the service book; the Nunc dimittis and the Magnificat for example, or dealt with themes of death and impermanence.
The ensemble was joined for three numbers by a much larger group, assembled by Daniel Taylor from across Canada, for much heavier duty renderings, including St. James’ impressive organ. Parry’s I was Glad, in particular, sounded most impressive. Perhaps the highlight of the evening though was the work the whole programme was named for; the setting, for eight voices, of the Lux Aeterna to Elgar’s Nimrod.
St. James has the perfect acoustic for this kind of music as well as being rather beautiful (inside at least) which made this a most satisfying aesthetic experience. And the church was close to full which is very good to see.