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God and Man, Time and Space: Echoes of the Sistine Chapel

World-class ensemble destined for greatness

Reviewed by Adam Roberts, Fri., Oct. 19, 2012

Ensemble VIII
Ensemble VIII

God and Man, Time and Space: Echoes of the Sistine Chapel

St. Louis Catholic Church Chapel, 7601 Burnet Rd.
Oct. 12

Ensemble VIII is destined for great things.

Even now, having just completed the first concert of what is only its second season, this consortium of early music specialists is already surpassing its mission "to perform vocal music of the Renaissance and Baroque at the highest artistic level with a keen attention to scholarship and historically informed performance practice." One of its eight members is Dr. James Morrow, Ensemble VIII's director, whose hats also include that of UT's director of choral activities. Last year, Morrow assembled his impressive roster of vocalists from around the nation, each of whom sports a bio chock-full of powerhouse credits.

On Friday evening, Ensemble VIII honored composers of the Renaissance with affiliations to the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, including Palestrina, Josquin, de Morales, Ockeghem, and Allegri, performing vocal works of theirs with pristine clarity. Indeed, the artistic level was so high that it qualifies as perhaps the best early music vocal concert I have yet had the privilege to experience in person. Program notes by Dr. Lorenzo Candelaria, associate professor of musicology at UT, were thorough, yet still accessible for those audience members who may have been less familiar with compositional practices or historical contexts of early music. Historically informed performances are clearly of paramount importance to the ensemble, as its stylistically rigorous executions of Renaissance polyphony displayed time and again throughout the night.

Where Morrow went especially right in his endeavor was at its start: in his compilation of the choir's roster itself. He clearly understands the necessity of careful consideration in the selection of his vocalists, as evidenced in the group's thoughtfully executed interplay of contrapuntal lines, blending richly into a simultaneous effect of oneness. Thanks to both the stylistic sensibility and technical prowess of each singer – in addition to their distinctive vocal timbres – the result was detailed and nuanced music making.

Within a few years, we'll be seeing Ensemble VIII's name alongside the most distinguished in its genre. Thanks to Morrow and the group's artists, we have – right here in Austin – a musical force that is on its way to world-class status in the field of early music.

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