Thursday 9 May 2019

Allegri's Miserere - sung by Tenebrae

Wonderful music - of course - but I have heard this old warhorse so many times that I pretty much take it for granted.

Then something made me look at this YouTube video - recorded with wonderful resonance in the church of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London, just round the corner from where I briefly worked in a laboratory... and it is the very best performance I have ever heard.

It had me holding my breath, while tears rolled down my cheeks.

Note: This performance confirms for me that adult women trebles are now, and have been for some four decades, the highest quality choral sopranos of our age; superseding pre-pubescent boys. The alto line is perhaps more controversial, with adult women and adult male counter-tenors both having superseded boys whose voices are beginning to break. But my preference in early choral music is now for adult women trained to sing as those in the Tenebrae choir - in a pure tone and without vibrato. However, I prefer counter-tenors for solo work in pre-18th century music, due to the superior cutting edge and masculinity of the voice.


Francis Berger said...

This is a sublime performance! Thanks for sharing it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - I'd have to say this is one of the most intense and musical choral performances of *anything* that I've ever heard! It has a touch of real magic about it.

a_probst said...

"... with adult women and adult male counter-tenors both having superseded boys..."

Too bad that trend wasn't further advanced in Carl Orff's prime. He had nerve using a boys' choir in Carmina Burana.

Bruce Charlton said...

@aprobst - Well, the women choral singers of that era deployed a wide vibrato (as it seems to us, now) - while the German culture apparently had a really good way of training boy trebles to sing with a fresh and open tone that is, to my ear, far superior to the 'constipated' sound of the English Choral tradition. Compare the 1950s/60s recordings of the Vienna Boys Choir with Kings College Cambridge. So, I would guess that Orff got a much more 'medieval' sound from boys voices.

One factor of which I am aware is that there is a heavy price to pay for having very high standards of singing from boys - a high dgree of sustained coercion in the training, and the encouragement of the usual premature sexual perversities added to by residential schooling.

It's a bit like castrati - I am prepared to believe that they were the very best singers of all, but the price was (much) too high. I feel the same about having pre-adolescent boys function as professional singers.

So I am relieved that adult women now do an objectively better job at the top level, and I believe that boys choirs ought to have a more relaxed and amateur way of operating (without e.g. choral boarding schools and their intense daily training and performances).