A cappella group Magnificat breathes life into sacred music from 16th century Britain


Magnificat, a British a cappella vocal group, will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. (Hanya Chlala/Hanya Chlala)

Magnificat, a British a cappella vocal group founded in 1991, gave a splendid noontime performance at the Church of the Epiphany downtown Tuesday, the pews and rafters vibrating sympathetically to the quintet’s exquisite intonation.

The repertoire was fairly narrow (all 16th-century British sacred music on Latin texts), the group didn’t put forth much effort as far as diction, and everything was of a similar mellifluous texture — nothing with a sharp rhythmic profile or extravagant word-painting. That said, the musical artistry was more than enough to hold the audience enthralled.

A cappella groups almost always take great care that attacks are blended and beginning consonants aligned. Magnificat, though, is still more impressive in phrase endings, the voices perfectly balanced as they fade into nothingness.

At full throttle, there could be imbalances; two members of the group are significantly older than the other three, and the youthful voices (including an effortless, crystalline soprano) occasionally predominated. But otherwise, Magnificat’s sound was pure, blended beauty — “O nata lux de lumine” by Thomas Tallis and “Dum transisset Sabbatum” by John Taverner were almost numinous. A setting of the “Book of Lamentations” by Robert White seemed emotionally bland, given the grief-stricken text, but again the musicianship and the quality of singing were all one could wish for.

Magnificat is undoubtedly magnificent. And they will be performing again at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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