In 2020, I asked our son, Andrew Bearden Brown, to curate a selection of his favorite music from Holy Week.
Currently pursuing a Performance Diploma at the Boston University Opera Institute, Andrew performs with the Opera Institute as the Stage Manager in Rorem’s Our Town, Laurie in Adamo’s Little Women, and Oronte in Handel’s Alcina. In the 2022/2023 season, he also debuts with Opera Neo as Marzio in Mozart’s Mitridate and covers Tempo in Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. Andrew’s solo concert appearances for the season include Handel’s Messiah with Ensemble Altera and with Tempesta di Mare, as well as with Ashmont Hill Chamber Music for Bach’s St. John Passion, in a performance praised by The Boston Musical Intelligencer as a “carefully balanced interpretation of the Evangelist with deep expression and gravitas.”
Andrew, a member of the outstanding professional choir at Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill, * was just named a 2023 finalist in the Oratorio Society of New York’s Lyndon Woodside Oratorio-Solo Competition.
On another Holy Saturday here in 2023, I’m going to share once again Andrew’s curated selection of four of his favorite pieces of the season. (Selections by ABB; notes and any mistakes by DJB.)
Tallis Scholars, Lobo, Versa est in luctum
We’ll begin with the Tallis Scholars, who “over four decades of performance and a catalogue of award-winning recordings have done more than any other group to establish sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as one of the great repertoires of Western classical music.” In this video, we hear their version of Alonso Lobo’s Versa est in luctum. Lobo, who was active in the later Renaissance, composed his most famous motet in 1598 upon the death of Phillip II of Spain. The motet is for six voices, and the performance notes for the piece indicate that, “Lobo creates, with his wall of gorgeous sound, an appropriately majestic work of mourning.”
Versa est in luctum cithara mea,
et organum meum in vocem flentium.
Parce mihi Domine,
nihil enim sunt dies mei.
My harp is turned to grieving
and my flute to the voice of those who weep.
Spare me, O Lord,
for my days are as nothing.
VOCES8, Byrd, Ne Irascaris Domine | Civitas Sancti Tui
The English composer William Byrd has long been a favorite, and in this video VOCES8 sings Byrd’s double motet Ne Irascaris Domine and Civitas Sancti Tui in the Gresham Centre in London. The Catholic Byrd wrote these motets in the 1580s as a protest against the Elizabethan Catholic persecutions, and the text refers to the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. One online commentator wrote, “This is perfection (and an exceptionally brilliant piece of writing by William Byrd). The perfection of the upper voices (not the slightest hint of a vibrato), and the sonority of the lower voices make for a magical performance of this epic masterpiece.” VOCES8 regularly performs in the U.S.; ranks among my personal favorites thanks to the wide range of music they perform with impeccable style and taste; and finally, in full disclosure, has added Andrew as a singer on occasion with the Choir of the VOCES8 Foundation.
Ne irascaris, Domine, satis
et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrae.
Ecce, respice, populus tuus omnes nos.
Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta.
Sion deserta facta est, Jerusalem desolata est.
(Isaiah 64 v. 9)
Be not angry, O Lord, still,
neither remember our iniquity for ever.
Behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.
The holy cities are a wilderness.
Sion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.
TENEBRAE, Howells, Like as the Hart
Tenebrae, under the direction of Nigel Short, is one of the world’s leading vocal ensembles renowned for its passion and precision. Their version of Like as the Hart by the English composer Herbert Howells is a beautiful and thoughtful rendering of this classic, which is based on Psalm 42 vv. 1–3. Howells taught composition at the Royal College of Music for almost 60 years, and this particular composition — which I sang back in the day — has long been another favorite of mine.
Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks,
so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God,
yea, even for the living God.
When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my meat day and night,
while they daily say unto me,
“Where is now thy God?”
CAMBRIDGE SINGERS, Durufle, Ubi Caritas
Finally, we’ll end with the Cambridge Singers, under the direction of John Rutter, singing one of my all time favorite pieces of choral music, Maurice Duruflé’s setting of Ubi Caritas. This hymn of the Western Church, long used as one of the antiphons for the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday, comes from a Gregorian melody composed sometime between the fourth and tenth centuries. Duruflé’s choral setting makes use of the Gregorian melody, but incorporates only the words of the refrain and the first stanza.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).
Whatever your religious tradition or beliefs, Andrew and I hope you can enjoy the beautiful choral music of Holy Week.
More to come…
*The music schedule for Church of the Advent for Easter Sunday 2023 is:
9 April – Easter Day
Rodney Lister: Kyrie “Euge bone”
Dr Christopher Tye: The Mass “Euge bone”
Ludwig Senfl: Regina cœli lætare
Matthew Martin: A Hymn of St Ambrose
arr Andrew Reid: Victimæ paschali laudes
If you are in or near Boston, I recommend a visit to Church of the Advent to hear their music.
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