As a 70th birthday tribute to Arvo Part, the overall effect of this concert may not have been quite what was intended.
Its first half comprised Tallis' Spem in alium, three pieces by Jonathan Harvey, and the premiere of Gabriel Jackson's Sanctum est verum lumen. The organ solo Annum per Annum was the solitary work by P?rt.
It was well-enough chosen. Performed with wit by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, it was the ideal exemplar of P?rt's "less is more" aesthetic amidst the English choral tradition at its lushest. In the Tallis, Jeffrey Skidmore marshalled his expanded Ex Cathedra forces with clarity and conviction, giving his performers the freedom to soar and dance with Tallis' proliferating lines.
They re-invented themselves for each of the Jonathan Harvey pieces. Tightly focused and hushed in I Love the Lord, low basses tolled sonorously beneath Remember O Lord. In Come Holy
Ghost, the chaste tones of their opening stanzas opened out to a blazing intensity in the extraordinary, aleatoric build-up with which Harvey prepares his quiet final pay-off.
How rich, imaginative and superbly-realised is Harvey's vision. Skidmore and his singers responded precisely to its every nuance. The Jackson, by comparison, sounded like Parry. This sweetlyflowing slice of Englishness received thunderous applause. But the main business of the evening was P?rt's Miserere.
It's hard to imagine it performed better. The Hilliard Ensemble, as soloists, brought burning conviction to P?rt's interminable, fragmented phrases; and first-rate instrumentalists squeezed every ounce of expression from P?rt's spartan writing. Ex Cathedra gave themselves unstintingly to music that they must have known was beneath them.
But beside Harvey and Tallis, P?rt's failures of technique and inspiration were fatally obvious. Less is more? No. More is more.