Although oracles earnestly advise, “Man, know thyself,” we seem, with equal insistence, to ensconce ourselves in ignorance. And nowhere is this truer than in coming to grips with mortality. But here is where art comes in. Tell people that you will be reciting texts from scripture, liturgy, and the English metaphysical poets dealing with death and the vanity of life—and no one will come. Set those same texts to music, on the other hand, and perform them with 27 skilled voices, and we willingly open up to the experience.
Songs of Remembrance, the spring program by Quire of Voyces, featured extended works from the 20th century by English composers John Tavener and Sir Hubert Parry, and a new piece by the Quire’s composer-in-residence, Michael Eglin. This beautiful and moving concert created a safe haven to come closer to the silence within and the unresolved issues that harbor there. Radiant sonorities evoked feelings large enough to respectfully cradle the mysteries of loss, change, and the borderland between time and the timeless.
Tavener’s Funeral Ikos (1981) was a fit concert opener. Unison chant begins softly in the men, and breaks, simply, into two parts. The long text from the Greek liturgy changes color and keeps forward pace with alternating men’s and women’s verses. Parry’s Songs of Farewell was a major undertaking; Nathan Kreitzer and his singers are to be congratulated for giving voice to a work not frequently performed in its entirety. But the highlight of the concert was Requiem, the newest issue by Eglin, an extended work in five movements. The piece is unusual for its setting of poems of lamentation by Mary B.C. Slade and Oscar Wilde alongside standard liturgical texts. The harmonies of “Along the silent path,” in particular, packed surprising emotional force in the refrain’s vivid mingling of longing and submission.