Exaudi review – choral virtuosity

Wigmore Hall, London
The vocal group gave a clean and confident account of rare pieces by Michael Finnissy and Heinz Hollinger

The chamber choir Exaudi’s Wigmore programme under director James Weeks featured music spanning 10 centuries. The most recent item consisted of four movements from Nicht Ichts–Nicht Nichts, composed in 2010-11 by the Swiss composer, oboist and conductor Heinz Holliger.

This a cappella setting of texts by the 17th-century German mystic and poet Angelus Silesius is extremely challenging, but the ensemble – which specialises in some of the most difficult music being written today – gave a clean and confident account of the individual sections, whether of the languid harmony of the first; the fragmentary, syllable-by-syllable nature of the second; the use of individual letters as purely sonic elements in the third; or the tortuous complexity of the last. Listening to these four movements made one want to hear the entire set of 10.

Exciting, too, was a rare opportunity to encounter Michael Finnissy’s Kelir, premiered in 1982. This ambitious piece sets ritual formulae declaimed before the commencement of a play in the Javanese puppet theatre tradition; the title refers to the curtain on to which the shadow puppets are projected. The choir offered tremendous assurance combined with colouristic range in the work’s dense writing, which demands absolute choral virtuosity and received it here.

Giacinto Scelsi’s highly distinctive Three Sacred Songs of 1958 completed the modern parts of the programme, though the ancient sections – including pieces by the medieval French masters Léonin and Machaut – were no less fascinating or finely interpreted.

Showing medieval music at its most complex was the “most subtle art” (ars subtilior) of Angelorum Psalat by the obscure Rodericus, which delighted in a performance of one of its modern editions before Weeks played it again – this time in two modern editions simultaneously, adding in a few interpolations of his own.

Available on BBC iPlayer until 2 March.


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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