The Sixteen, St David's Hall Cardiff

Harry Christophers's ensemble casts a spell in Cardiff

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A few days ago I took a trip to the 16th century. Or at least that was how it felt as I listened to The Sixteen singing Tallis and Byrd in St David’s Hall, Cardiff.

The group, conducted by Harry Christophers, opened with four of Tallis’s Nine Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter (from which Vaughan Williams took the theme for his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis) and instantly transformed the cavernous concert hall into an intimate chapel. The piety of Tallis was followed by a charming secular piece – Morley’s madrigal 'April is in my mistress’ face' (‘And July in her eyes hath place’).

Staying with the secular, the next work was Byrd’s light-hearted 'This sweet and merry month of May' – Harry Christophers having guided the ensemble expertly from the serious tone of the Tallis to the frivolous, gather-ye-rosebuds tone of the madrigals.

The Sixteen, for their part, clearly enjoyed the madrigals’ ornaments and polyphony and took advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate their considerable vocal athleticism and agility.

The first half closed with a fast-forward to the 20th century with James MacMillan’s Sedebit Dominum Rex and Michael Tippett’s Five Negro Spirituals from A Child of Our Time.

But this was an audience keen on time travel and it was the madrigals and vocal works by Tallis and Byrd which were given the warmest reception.

As a stunning rendition of Byrd’s Laudibus in Sanctis came to a close you could almost see the stained glass windows, feel the cold stone pillars and smell the incense. And then the illusion was shattered as a woman shouted 'Bravo' from the stalls. But who could blame her?

The Sixteen are appearing at venues around the UK and their CD of music by Palestrina is out now.

 

Elizabeth Davis is editorial assistant at BBC Music Magazine