Tenebrae, Joby Talbot

FRANK CLIFF Norwich Cathedral (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)


Norwich Cathedral (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)

The cathedral lights dim; darkness, save for candlelight.

Dimly-clad male figures come together by the font. Silence, then the subliminal hum of voices, rising gradually to a great crescendo culminating with the entry of female voices at the rear of the nave.

Thus the supremely dramatic beginning of Joby Talbot's Path of Miracles, an a capella work which evokes the most ancient of the Catholics' pilgrimage routes through Santiago de Compestala.

The work is in four movements whose titles belong to the main staging posts along the route of the pilgrimage: Roncesvalles, Burgos, Leon and Santiago de Compestala. Roncesvalles represents the joy at the beginning of the pilgrimage, Burgos the hardships along the route - Talbot describes it as his version of the Dies Irae - Leon, halfway through the journey, a city and cathedral full of hope and light, Santiago the joyful climax.

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Talbot's choral writing is magical, though formally the four movements are so fragmented that their overall impression is not clearly defined.

The sound with different groups frequently singing from different parts of the cathedral is magical though never bettering the dramatic effectiveness of the opening.

The 17 voices of Tenebrae, superbly directed by Nigel Short, perform this 70-minute marathon magnificently, with perfect ensemble and intonation even if little of the varied texts are audible.

A splendid performance with once again a near capacity audience for this major work.

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