Monday, February 13, 2012

Carver, Tallis and ghosts

We don't go to concerts often these days - we're as likely to be performing as listening, to be honest, and the late-night return, involving as it tends to an hour's wait for the last ferry or the long drive over the Rest, puts us off, rather, especially in winter. But on Saturday we made an exception, and the resulting evening was one that we both considered well worth the trail. It also achieved an interesting bringing-together of various elements in my life, and I hope to be able to convey something of this.

The concert was in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries, and I found out about it on Facebook and booked it online. In that simple sentence you have the beginning and end of a loop: I spent many a wet winter Saturday afternoon in childhood looking at the animals and the armour in the Art Galleries, now a very different place: to my recall the animal displays were all round where we sat as an audience, forming a sort of ghostly backdrop.  And to get there we drove through Broomhill and Hyndland and over Gilmorehill. I found myself wishing I still had my parents living in Broomhill, remembering Hyndland for both my early childhood and the excitement of buying the tiny flat we lived in when we were first married, thinking of the strange thrill of being around the university on winter evenings, whether for pleasure or - occasionally - study. I reflected on how carelessly the young me had felt ownership of that whole area, without thought or fear, how I had walked the dark streets alone and heedless.

But the concert - ah, the concert. The Tallis Scholars were singing "our" music - Tallis, Allegri, Byrd, the incomparable Robert Carver. They sang it perfectly - the best choral singing we'd ever heard live. Of course we knew their excellence - we have several recordings, and that's why we went - but the live performance overwhelmed me with its wonderful creamy sound, the perfect intonation, the flawless phrasing, the ebb and flow and the heart-stopping wall of sound of the word "Jesus" when it came, over and over, throughout Carver's motet O Bone Jesu. For Allegri's Miserere, there was a group of singers - the ones whose part includes the magic high treble notes - somewhere in a gallery above us and to the left, so that when they sang I was suddenly aware of the vast emptiness of the rest of the building, lurking art-filled and ghostly while some thousand people gathered at its heart. So there we sat, packed, still and silent, raptly caught up in something beyond the human in the unforgettable shared experience that we would, in the end, all describe differently.

More memories, more ghosts. We too sang in the Art Galleries once, when we sang with The New Consort of Voices in the late 60s and early 70s. It was hard to get an audience for Byrd and Palestrina in those days, and the few people who listened did so as they drifted about the space during an afternoon organ/vocal recital. We tried to sing in the way that the Tallis Scholars do now, we sang the same music (from the same edition of Byrd, I noticed), and no-one took any notice except for Kenneth Elliott. We even sang Carver, so I feel I know the music from within. I don't get singing like that so often now, for we don't have enough contact with others who can do it - and it annoys me to think that I sing better now in what must be my vocal twilight than I did when I was young.

We fortified our bodies with a delightful early meal in Konaki. The whole evening was a delight. And I have to thank the very current medium of Facebook for unlocking it all.


  1. Well, that post allowed me to share your wonderful that I too appreciate in a setting that I've not visited for many a long year.
    Thank you.

  2. What an evocative description of a very memorable evening. Unlike Fly, I don't know the building where you heard the concert, but can guess the effect. Back in the early 1980s I bought the cassette of the original recording of the Miserere by the Tallis Scholars, with Alyson Stamp as solo treble, and was so glad it was reissued on CD.

    I first sang polyphony back in the mid-60s when I was a student at Oxford and have loved it ever since, though I don't know the Carver work you mention. One to discover...

  3. We were fortunate to study music - in last year at school as well as at Uni for me - at the time when Kenneth Elliot's Music of Scotland came out as a volume in the Musica Britannica series. We used to get round the piano and sing from this massive tome!

  4. (If you receive another comment, ignore it! I had crafted a piece of reminiscence, but, when I tried to preview it, the page went bananas and disappeared I know not whither! Hmph.)

    Glad you enjoyed the Tallis Scholars at Kelvingrove. I was at another concert - the RSNO presenting a mish-mash of stuff having vague associations with the season of ex-St Valentine. The Rosenkavalier suite was suitably lush.

    I used to say that Capella Nova must have peeked into our programmes from decades earlier, for their repertoire was uncannily similar to ours. I've never thought of myself as part of a vanguard before. I'm usually more like the Duke of Plaza Toro, who "led his regiment from behind - he found it less exciting"!

    I, too, sang with the New Consort - but long after you & Mr B had emigrated to the Cowal peninsula. Your post set me digging in the orts of my archives, whence I retrieved two surviving concert programmes from the late seventies.

    The composers represented are an eclectic bunch: Vaughan Williams, Messiaen, Poulenc, Britten, Victoria, Byrd, Tomkins, Palestrina, Taverner, Anerio (both F & G) and Elizabeth Poston.

    I also have a tape of a Christmas concert from 1979, featuring a wide assortment of festive music. And there are more tapes of other concerts lurking in Muir of Ord...

    Ah! Happy days!

  5. Ps - "Cappella". dormitabat bonus Homerus.

  6. abf, how long did the NCV survive after we left in 1974? I recall you singing with us in Cumbrae and using a surplice as a dressing-gown as we were all staying in the North College. I don't remember, however, if you were a regular member at the time, or standing in for an absent tenor.
    Just seems like yesterday ...