In review: Exaudi at Wigmore HallReview
The famous acoustic of Wigmore Hall serves well the recital work of the world’s best singers. In hindsight, it almost seems an oversight that it took us nearly a year to hear a cappella voices in the notoriously friendly performance space. (Frankly, EXAUDI’s signature sound had us suddenly eager to hear a barbershop quartet on the Wigmore stage.)
In its 15th year, EXAUDI brought the latest instalment of their Italian Madrigal Book to Wigmore Hall. The programme combines music of the 16th and 17th centuries - by the likes of Jacques Arcadelt, Luca Marenzio, Giaches de Wert, and Claudio Monteverdi - with 21st-century works by Salvatore Sciarrino and EXAUDI director James Weeks.
The 8 voices of EXAUDI sang in varying combinations; their uniform sound stayed interesting, with solo singers trading moments of spotlight. Just as we grew comfortable in their 16th-century sound, well grounded and ringing with overtones, Weeks revealed his stealthy integration of Arcadelt’s Primo Libro de’ Madrigali and the EXAUDI director’s own Libro di fiammelle e ombre. The two composers shared texts - largely by anonymous authors - which live on the blurry line between love, lust, desperation, and death.
Weeks’ sparse, scattered, intensely dissonant settings were a complete U-turn from the familiar aesthetic of the Arcadelt. The two composers’ songs were uneqally interwoven; Arcadelt’s music took the greater portion at the beginning, and slowly gave way to the settings by Weeks. Later in the programme, the Sciarrino songs revealed themselves to be a true point of inspiration for Weeks; the EXAUDI director - and obvious lover of the possibilities of voices - seemed to stretch the limits of dissonance, bending pitches, and true dissonance. Like the Sciarrino, Weeks’ settings are imaginative and novel; yet they seemed to overstay their welcome, letting intrigue give way to irritation.
Though our own tastes may vary, there’s no doubt of the skill found within the 8 singers of EXAUDI, and with the extraordinary attention to detail in Weeks’ direction. The programme is thoughtful and expertly prepared, and the effortless music-making had us curious about how each singer fit into the collective. The use of tuning forks to find pitch was more fascinating than it sounds; some singers preferred to sound their tuning forks by hitting it against the outside of their index finger, and some seemed content to simply knock it against the upstage side of their own head. Maybe it’s unorthodox, but we can’t argue with the results.