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Sunday, May 14, 2017


(Andrew Butler)

The Pietermaritzburg Amateur Music Society (PAMS) will present a concert titled Musique Sacrée on May 21 in the Lutheran Church in Hayfields, Pietermaritzburg.

Paris is a beautiful city with tree-lined spacious boulevards. On the banks of the majestic river Seine stands Notre Dame Cathedral, a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture and the focal point of Catholic Paris for seven centuries. When entering the Cathedral with light flooding through the magnificent stained glass rose windows, it is possible that you might also hear the sound of a choir singing.

The PAMS concert of French music begins with the brief Kyrie of the Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance, Guillaume Dufay, in which one finds an early example of music set to the text of the Mass, with, for us listening with our ears of hindsight, or hindsound, its starkly primitive atmosphere, strange cadences and hollow harmonies.

Then, four centuries later two works of the French Romantic composer Gabriel Faure, two brief choral gems, an Ave Maria and the Cantique on a text of Jean Racine, the 17th century dramatist, both predating Fauré’s famous Requiem, and, as in that wonderful masterpiece, both revealing a sophisticated restraint and a seamless beauty that is characteristic of all his music.

Then on into the 20th century, we find an example of the liturgical music emanating from Taize in Burgundy, where an ecumenical community was founded in 1940. The music was composed mainly by Jacques Berthier, whose style was necessarily simple and yet effective, easily accessible to the many congregants who have gathered there over the decades.

Christopher Cockburn who is one of the leading organists in South Africa has kindly agreed to be the soloist on the organ in the first half of the programme. He will play two movements from Léon Boëllmann's Suite Gothique Op 25 – the Prière à Notre-Dame and Toccata. Cockburn will also accompany the choir in the other works.

Cockburn writes: "Léon Boëllmann was a younger contemporary of Gounod and, like him, lived for most of his life in Paris. Although he composed music in a number of different genres, he is mainly remembered today for his organ music, and particularly the four-movement Suite Gothique which regularly appears on recital programmes around the world. The two movements being played in this programme are strongly contrasting. The Prière à Notre-Dame is a slow, quiet meditation with a serene, song-like melody. The dramatic Toccata  presents a slightly sinister theme in the pedals accompanied by the continual rapid figurations on the keyboard which are characteristic of the French organ toccata as a genre. It begins softly but ends with a powerful statement of the theme using the full resources of the organ."

PAMS Musical Director Nigel Fish has selected for the main work on the programme the Messe Solennelle of the 19th century Paris-born Charles Gounod. One of no less than 16 settings of the Mass that he composed, this one is known as the St Cecilia Mass as it was first performed on St Cecilia's day (November 22) in 1855 - St Cecilia being the patron saint of music and musicians.

Establishing Gounod as a major composer of his day, this work is scored for three vocal soloists. Performing this work with the choir will be soprano Annalie Herbst-van Rooyen, tenor Sandile Mabaso and bass Andrew Butler. Its highly persuasive style is by turns gentle, exultant, stirring and yearning - if one listens carefully one can almost smell the incense - and unusually, ending with three rousing prayers: the Church, the Army, the Nation.

The concert will take place on May 21 at 14h30 in the Lutheran Church, Hayfields in Pietermaritzburg. Tickets R100 (R50 students) on sale at the door or available from Pink Heather at the Quarry Shopping Centre in Hilton.