They came, they saw and they conquered. It was a committed, sell-out audience, to be sure, but the long, sustained applause at the end of the evening was entirely merited.
It seems churlish in the face of choral singing of the highest possible quality, the like of which we never normally hear in Sheffield, to note the odd momentary vocal hiccup in the difficult, ornamented lines of the second choir in new, more ‘authentic’ performing edition of Allegri’s Miserere.
Elsewhere, Palestrina provided the backbone of this concert of Marian music, The Queen of Heaven, in which ‘eighteen’ voices – six sopranos, four male altos, four tenors, four basses – blended immaculately with faultless balance, outstanding intonation and diction.
It began and ended with the Kyrie and Agnus Dei from his Missa Regina Caeli, his motet of the same title ending with astonishing contrapuntal clarity in the densely populated lines of the triumphant Amens.
In his eight-part setting of the Stabat Mater, remarkably, two choirs could be distinctly heard, yet it remained a marvellous, homogenous whole.
Four pieces by James MacMillan included three of his umpteen Strathclyde Anthems, one of which, Dominus dabit benignitatem, had the sopranos soaring with perfect pitch and spine-tingly effect.
More substantial, was his setting of the Miserere, a superbly paced, musically varied work – the quiet humming from the choir with one section singing the words creating a wonderful organ-like effect, while the execution of the psalm’s final stanzas even had the choir’s conductor, Harry Christophers, applauding his singers.