Glasgow University Chapel, 7th December, 2014
Glasgow Madrigirls, directed by Katy Cooper and Lavinia Downie, have been going since 2000, and their impact and development is shown by the fact that this concert was standing room only – the chapel was absolutely full. A bit surprising maybe for a programme of medieval lyrics, carols, poems and melodies, but the fresh singing of the choir and the promise of something to lift the spirits on a raw night obviously had appeal. As it turned out, there were plenty moments and elements in the programme that gave real satisfaction and pleasure.
A mix of (mostly) choral settings, with straightforward instrumentation was combined with readings; and the sources were from all over Europe. A lot of careful work had gone into researching and making the selections, and the notes on the printed programme gave a helpful notion of the context. The musical arrangements, the presentation and the balance of the choir (with a preponderance of altos over sopranos) were appealing and effective. There were some fine harmonic effects, and the direction for the most part created a bright, captivating sound in the slightly daunting recesses of the chapel.
One of my particular heroines, the doughty visionary Hildegard of Bingen, featured on two items – an opening antiphon and a lovely setting of her melismatic sequence “O viridissima virga’ – where Mary is praised as a blossoming branch. Other highlights, in a pretty busy programme, were a version of the ‘Cherry Tree Carol’ for two voices, with violin and cello, and also Katy Lavinia Cooper’s setting of ‘Leaves of Life Magnificat’, where Sacha Fullerton was the soloist. It wasn’t always possible to pick out soloists because of the sightlines, but a good proportion of the choir members contributed here, and added to our enjoyment.
The readings, coming in from lectern/pulpits on two sides, were clear and well delivered; but I wished the content and language had been enriched by Scots to a greater extent. There was little need for a ‘version’ of Robert Henryson – though it was great to have him there, and surely again as a deep and humane resource – and if that audience could handle Middle English they could certainly manage undiluted medieval (and slightly later) Scots. We did get the text, and an excellent choral rendering, of William Dunbar’s resounding ‘Rorate celi, desuper’; and there’s more where that came from, as well as in Alexander Scott and Alexander Montgomerie, for example, and in Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross. And for Gaelic, perhaps invite compositions from Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica.
It was good to see a quartet of ‘Madriguys’ in support; maybe occasional ‘Madrigammers’ and ‘Madrigaffers’ are possible too. Done again, with a similar big audience and in the same space, I’d look for modest platform elevation and possibly a bit of sonic lift for the choir. But in any setting this is a group well worthy of support, and praise – as their advent concertb clearly underlined.
Reviewer : Mr Scales