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Sacred devotion | Illustra (vocal chamber ensemble)

Saturday February 25, 2012 at 19:30
Harris Manchester College Chapel, Oxford
Tickets £12 (£8 concessions). Includes complimentary programme
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Tickets "at the door" - until sold out
  1. Stabat Mater - Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
  2. Membra Jesu Nostri BuxWV 75 - Dietrich Buxtehude

The acclaimed vocal ensemble Illustra are making their Oxford debut in the glorious pre-Raphelite setting of the Chapel of Harris Manchester College located in the heart of the city of Oxford. The chapel, by Thomas Worthington, dates from 1893 and contains one of the finest and most complete series of stained glass windows designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones to be found anywhere in the UK.

Today's concert features Membra Jesu Nostri, composed by Dietrich Buxtehude in 1680. Literally translated as 'The most holy limbs of our suffering Jesus' this meditation on the Passion consists of seven cantatas, each contemplating parts of Christ's body on the cross (feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and head) and is full of beauty, hope and invention. There is no finer example of Buxtehude's genius for creating the ultimate in spiritual impact without a note of gratuitous indulgence.

The plangent and mature dissonance upon which Buxtehude develops his harmonic character foreshadows the work of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi who brought extended sensuality to the bitter-sweet world of Christ's crucification and the concert continues with a duet performance of his celebrated Passiontide cantata Stabat Mater. With its 13th Century text, a strongly emotional retelling of the Passion story from the viewpoint of his grieving mother, the Virgin Mary, and extraordinary harmonic language it is little wonder that the popularity of the Stabat Mater has endured to this day. The work's feeling of restrained 'sacred opera' is retained in this performance, attempting to recreate what the composer may have originally intended in a modest but nevertheless still quietly operatic style of presentation and using the unusual combination of solo soprano and countertenor voices singing in the same octave.

For tonight's concert the group will be joined by additional singers to form a small chamber choir with supporting instruments in consort, under the music direction of Alexander Chaplin . With examples of virtuosic solo arias, duets and trios as well as sensitive, subtle and instinctively blended polyphonic choruses Illustra will convey a powerful yet intimate interpretation of works by two of the very finest composers of Sacred devotional Music.

Harris Manchester College Chapel
Mansfield Road

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