24 August, 2009

Festival Blogger review - Huelgas Ensemble

Huelgas Ensemble

Listening to the Huelgas Ensemble was the perfect way to finish a long day at work. The ensemble consisted of eight singers and a small collection of renaissance and baroque instruments led by the director and founder Paul Van Nevel. The programme was a mixture of Bach and Praetorius chorales, which, whilst written almost one hundred years apart, fitted together in the same concert seamlessly.

Greyfriars Kirk was the perfect setting for the chorales, congregational hymns of the Lutheran Church. It was packed out by a large audience, but remained intimate enough for the small ensemble. This was a performance of a well-rehearsed ensemble; the tuning was impeccable and diction flawless. The dynamics were subtle, although arguably too subtle at times. If I had to criticize the Huelgas Ensemble’s performance, I think their technical brilliance and attention to detail occasionally led to moments of emotionless performance. Despite this, the beauty of the Huelgas Ensemble’s choral singing was undisputable. The eight singers’ voices melted together and moved as one, the four voice parts supporting and reinforcing one another. In between each of the seven chorales the singers rearranged themselves which continually mixed up the sound. The orchestration was sparse and intermittent but worked well to link the cantatas together to from a coherent whole.

The Huelgas Ensemble gave a beautiful concert. The chosen chorales were written to impart the pious wishes of a man on his deathbed, voice desperate cries for redemption and express exaltation at the glory of God, and whilst the concert swelled to a gloriously emotive end, it was too little too late. However whilst the concert may not have been a demonstration of heartfelt emotion, it was without doubt a demonstration of exquisite music performed by exceptional musicians, and the performers left to the stage to thoroughly deserved thunderous applause.

Reviewer: Fiona Stewart

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