It's not often you get to hear the big polyphonic blockbusters of the renaissance by the likes of Tallis and Ockeghem. Their very complex, multiple voice parts have placed them out of bounds for most choral groups. You would think then that this rare outing of some of the most magnificent church music ever written might have generated a bit more interest than was in evidence at the Cadogan Hall last night.
The programme's premise, devised by David Buckley, a former Wells Cathedral chorister who now writes film scores in Hollywood, was that most of these outrageously ambitious works didn't stem from composers' God fearing devotion but rather as a consequence of challenges they set themselves 'after a session or two in the local tavern'.
If that's the case, I'd love to know what kind of state Thomas Tallis must have been in to come up with his audacious Spem in Alium, a motet scored for 40 individual parts, divided into eight choirs of five voices each.
Holding scores the size of The Guardian, the vocal ensemble Armonico Consort, boosted by the rather worried looking choir of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, made sure the occasion didn't go to waste by singing it twice. Forming a large square that took in the Cadogan Hall's auditorium and stage, the different choirs passed the music around with seamless ease thanks in no small part to the cool head of conductor Christopher Monks.
If there was a pervading tentativeness about about the evening, not helped by the hall's airless acoustic, it was still a terrific display of choral bravery that any self-respecting early music nut would have lapped up.