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CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
Mostly Motets / Sunday, January 25, 2009
Mostly Motets

INGEBORG PSALTER

MOSTLY MOTETS SINGS AT VESPERS

by Joanna Bramel Young
Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mostly Motets, a North Bay a capella vocal ensemble, presented a Vespers concert January 25 in Petaluma’s First Presbyterian Church. Director Steve Moore conducted the well-rehearsed ensemble, consisting of twelve singers, in sacred works by Byrd, Dufay, Josquin, Tallis and Victoria – all leading composers of the fourteenth through early seventeenth centuries. Polyphonic works written primarily for unaccompanied voices, motets were often sung in Latin, and were liturgical in character.

The ensemble opened with "Justorum animae" by William Byrd, singing with good intonation and, happily for this reviewer, no vibrato. However Byrd was not the earliest English composer presented, that honor going to a thirteenth-century anonymous composer’s "Edi be thu heven queen" (“Blessed be thou, queen of heaven”), sung in Middle English. On balance, the singer's handling of the Middle English was convincing. Josquin des Prez’s wonderful "In principio erat verbum," with the full chorus, was especially moving, the soprano voices soaring gracefully above the lower parts. In some sections of the long work, the tenors and basses also had a chance to shine. Josquin is regarded as one of the finest and most influential composers of the Renaissance.

In the second half of the hour-long program the chorus sang the moving and familiar work "If you love me" by the great English composer Thomas Tallis, court musician to both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Another work by Tallis, "Te lucis ante terminum," began and ended with Gregorian chant, to elegant effect. The singers' voices blended into a well-unified whole, with at the same time a clarity that brought out the individual parts.

The evening's high point was "O magnum mysterium" by the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria. Regarded as one of the most sublime motets ever written, it was sung with rich expression by the chorus.

One small caveat not involving the performance itself: the written program provided interesting information about each composer but omitted mentioning the names of the director and the members of the ensemble. For an additional opportunity to hear Renaissance choral music, Mostly Motets will be singing selections at the Feb. 1, 10 a.m. service of Berkeley’s First Congregational Church.