Review: York Early Music Festival, The Sixteen, Choral Pilgrimage 2019, York Minster, Tuesday

WELL, after the most bizarre heavenly commentary, which persisted throughout the first half of this wonderful concert, The Sixteen sang a sublime Salve Regina, which melted into Sir John Tavener’s A Hymn To The Mother Of God.

John Sheppard’s Gloria was sung wonderfully, as was Eric Whitacre’s Sainte-Chapelle. To be honest, I had reservations about the opening; it could have been written most contemporary choral composers. But his setting of Sanctus was beautiful and I enjoyed the piece much more from then on.

Robert Wylkynson’s Salve Regina was simply a masterclass in choral writing and the performance left nothing to be desired.

After the aforementioned heavenly commentary, the second half opened with a welcome invitation to appreciate each vocal offering, and we did.

The performance of Robert Fayrfax’s Eternae Laudis Lilium was just perfect, the music, stunningly beautiful.

A hard act to follow, but Gabriel Jackson gave it his best shot. His Ave Maria had moments of genuine inspiration: the passionate, gripping setting of Sanctus Maria (wonderful resonating bass) and the delicate closing soprano exchanges.

Sir James Macmillan was on good form too. His O Virgo Prudentissima is an inspired work taken from a fragment by Robert Wylkynson. I particularly liked the halo of sound, which hung over the later part of the work.

The closing Agnus Dei by John Sheppard was just sublime. As I left, I was trying to think of an adjective to describe Harry Christophers’ conducting – engaging, charismatic? – when I heard one lady say to another, "he’s absolutely gorgeous". Well I can’t possibly comment on that, but the performance was indeed absolutely gorgeous.

Steve Crowther