Annette Morreau: The Independent
Merton Chapel, Oxford
Stravinsky, Bainbridge, Ockeghem
Last Saturday, James Wood, founder and highly professional trainer of the NLCC, proved once again that this group is simply staggering. Over long stretches of time, the integrity of tuning while not accompanied by any supporting instruments has to be heard to be believed.
James Wood took the highly unusual programming step of splitting Ockeghem's Missa pro Defunctis and Stravinsky's Mass into bits, weaving the works around each other and placing in the middle the world premiere of Eicha by Simon Bainbridge. What looked weird on paper was magical in execution. Ockeghem's work is the earliest surviving Requiem Mass we know, but its length is formidable. By dividing and placing it like a sandwich filling throughout the programme - Ockeghem, Bainbridge, Stravinsky, Ockeghem, Stravinsky - at the point where restlessness with the twilight of the Gothic era threatened to obtrude, off we were whisked to another age. The correspondence across the centuries between Ockeghem and Stravinsky was particularly telling; whereas Ockeghem's 15th-century idiom is today, against a context of later, lush, total harmony, measured as austere, Stravinsky's equally austere idiom is understood as a reaction to a lushness Ockeghem never knew. There was an almost palpable sense of "handing on" from the austere open-fifth ending of Ockeghem's Offertorium to the Sanctus of Stravinsky's Mass.
Wood's reading of this visionary score was masterly.