Heron > About Us > Reviews (2012)
2012 Want List
Blue Heron gets included on my list both for the quality of its performances, which are equal to the finest that can be found in Europe, and for its ongoing recording project devoted to the so-called Peterhouse Partbooks. The emphasis is on English sacred music from the first half of the 16th century, and roughly half of the contents are unique to this source. A nod of respect is also due to Nick Sandon, who has done very important restoration work since the early 1980s on the missing tenor book, and the beginning and conclusion of the treble book that have vanished as well.
From "Sounds of America: The Scene"
Blue Heron is a virtuoso vocal ensemble that specialises in 15th- and 16th-century English and European church music. The Boston-based ensemble sing five-part Renaissance polyphony, works that run the gamut from the sacred to the secular by composers whose names may not be familiar to everyone. For these concerts at the First Church in Cambridge Congregational, the 15 men and women of Blue Heron perform works by Dufay, Josquin, Obrecht, Brumel and others to celebrate Christmas. While pre-Baroque music may seem intimidating to some, Blue Heron's sound is a revelation - fresh, dynamic and vibrant, making a welcome change from the well-known Christmas oratorios. This is pristine, urgent and wondrous music-making of the highest order.
Thrilling, Soaring, Quasi-Religious Performance
I was told by our editor, "You must go hear Blue Heron." Silly me, I hadn't yet heard them — and there is no excuse for that. I agreed to review this concert in part to rectify my oversight, although I may be the only person who views writing a concert review as something akin to an act of contrition. (And I never was a Roman Catholic.) But last night's standing-room-only concert at Boston College's Gasson Hall proved to me just how enormous was my oversight in not having heard Blue Heron perform before. Now I can tell you, "Go. You must hear Blue Heron." This was a thrilling, soaring, quasi-religious experience. You have three more opportunities to hear this program; stop reading now and get yourself to a venue.
Early Music Review Hails the Second Peterhouse CD
I was hugely impressed with the first CD in this admirable series exploring the neglected choral music of the Peterhouse Partbooks, and this second volume has been well worth waiting for. The random loss of one of the Tenor partbooks from the set and damage to a Treble book has meant that the composers, whose work was uniquely preserved here, were equally randomly consigned to a 'second division' in many minds simply due to the fact that their music missed out on the early stages of the rediscovery of English Renaissance choral music. Reconstruction work by Nick Sandon has now restored most of the contents, and composers such as Pygott and Ludford are beginning to be compared favourably in stature to their established contemporaries.
Ludford received a boost when several of his masses were recorded by The Cardinall's Musick and revealed as considerable masterpieces, and this process continues with the present performance of his hitherto unrecorded Missa Regnum mundi. Based in Boston (USA), Blue Heron has specialised for over a decade in the music of this period and produces a spectacularly rich and accurate sound, with beautifully delineated articulation. Presenting the polyphony in the context of a partial liturgical reconstruction of a Sarum rite celebration of a Mass for St Margaret, the singers perform the chant with great assurance, negotiating even the treacherous contours of the Sarum Kyrie Conditor and the Alleluya with an engaging degree of familiarity such as their Renaissance counterparts would have enjoyed, so that the polyphony seems to rise organically from these strong roots. A lengthy dissertation on performance pitch in the notes seems in practice to boil down to an upward transposition of a semitone from modern A440, so no interstellar high trebles here. However, if anything it is the lower voices which carry much of the argument in Ludford's polyphony and which are given rightful prominence here.
But what polyphony this is! Even as a hardened reviewer and performer/director of polyphony (including several mass settings by Ludford), I was transported by the exquisite beauty of this Mass, and found myself sitting in semi-darkness luxuriating in the genius of Ludford's intertwining vocal lines. Pygott's enormous Salve regina, running in this recording to almost 23 minutes of intricate polyphony, is in the more conservative idiom of the Eton Choirbook and is given an equally intelligent and exquisitely unhurried performance. I cannot recommend this superb CD highly enough – it is the sort of recording to listen to in awe at the sustained and unerring skill of the performers and the burgeoning brilliance of the composers (and their unobtrusive editor), and to shed a quiet tear for the untold treasures that have been lost.
Fuse Concert Review: An Embarrassment of Vocal Riches — Blue Heron and The Tallis Scholars
Two extraordinary concerts took place in Cambridge, MA, last weekend, one by Blue Heron at First Church Congregational on Friday, the other by a perennial Boston favorite, The Tallis Scholars, in the cavernous St. Paul's Church in Harvard Square.
Splendor of Hapsburg-Burgundian Court Music
The splendor of the Hapsburg-Burgundian courts in the early 16th century provided the context for a concert by Blue Heron Renaissance Choir, Scott Metcalfe, director, on Friday evening, March 30th, at the First Church in Cambridge, Congregational. Under the umbrella title "Music for Three Sovereigns," the program consisted in part of sacred motets from a collection printed in 1520 and drawn from the repertory of the court chapel in Vienna of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Through his marriage to Mary of Burgundy, Maximilian also became heir to Burgundy and the Low Countries, whose prosperous city churches had long nurtured the best singers and composers of high art polyphony. Maximilian's daughter Marguerite established her own brilliant court with its own musical establishment at Malines, where she ruled first as regent for her young nephew Charles V and later as governor of the Low Countries. Marguerite had her own scriptorium for the copying of luxury manuscripts both for her own use and as gifts. One of these was sent to Henry VIII and his queen, Catherine of Aragon. This manuscript contains no less than five settings of the last words (delivered in Virgil's Aeneid) by the third sovereign of the program, Dido Queen of Carthage.
Blue Heron shines in smaller ensemble and in full force
Boston has a well-earned reputation as an exceptional early-music town. Even so, last weekend was unusual for the abundance of choral talent on display. Friday saw a performance by Blue Heron, the city's own outstanding early-music vocal group, while the Tallis Scholars - for many years the standard-bearers in this repertory - were due for a Saturday concert in the Boston Early Music Festival series.
Blue Heron's Renaissance polyphonics, without polemics
At times, listening to early music can force you to take sides in some issue or another.
Should J.S. Bach's choral music have one singer to a part or many? Should a performance score be a conflation of sources or taken from a single manuscript? Must baroque music always be performed on period instruments and with attempts to match ancient styles?
Sometimes the polemics give way to gentle suggestions in the context of musicians and fans who all love this music. That was the sentiment of a concert Saturday night by Blue Heron, a Boston-area group specializing in Renaissance polyphony.