It felt rather incongruous going into the plain and very Protestant St. Thomas’s Church on a cool, damp English June evening to hear this passionately Catholic music from 16th century Spain and Central America. Perhaps it should really be heard in the dark spaces of a Spanish cathedral, glittering with gold, the air thick with incense. However, St. Thomas’s worked remarkably well. The resonant acoustic enhanced the sound beautifully, and the sound was magnificent, particularly in the final piece, Guerrero’s ‘Duo Seraphim’ in twelve parts arranged in three choirs.
In this piece, as in most of their items, Pro Nobis were joined by the cornett and sackbut ensemble QuintEssential, who also played some instrumental pieces which displayed their impressive mastery of these beautiful but difficult instruments.
The choir’s conductor Clive Walkley has made a special study of Juan Esquivel, and two hymns by Esquivel alternated verses of unaccompanied unison singing - to popular-sounding tunes - with complex polyphony supported by the instruments. Here Pro Nobis showed their superb tuning and ensemble, exactly together in the unisons, and perfectly in tune every time the instruments came in.
Can a choir of modern English people quite match the devotional fervour in some of this music? If they tried, they might lose this choir’s technical precision. So perhaps the highlight of the concert was the more sober, but deeply moving ‘Versa est in luctum’ by Alonso Lobo, written for the funeral of Philip II. It was performed unaccompanied, and the beautifully blended, pure soprano sound was particularly impressive.
This was a rare opportunity to hear some great but neglected music, performed close to how it originally sounded, and to a standard easily comparable with many professional ensembles.
Michael Fields wrote of the Pro Nobis concert in August 2009:
This was a fine and wonderfully atmospheric concert. The choir sang very well - so well that it would be hard not to assume that they were professional - and they were expertly conducted by Clive Walkley. It was an interesting and varied programme, moving from sacred to secular, all the items of which contributed to the mood of a late summer evening - relaxed, contemplative, spiritual. My one criticism is that the acoustics of the church did not lend themselves to the choir's retreat to the altar for some items - necessitated by the need to have visual contact with the organist, but unfortunate musically, as the balance with the organ was not so good in that position. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the evening enormously, and was glad to have made the effort to come from Keswick to hear this concert.
Ann Bond, reviewing Dido and Aeneas for which Pro Nobis provided the chorus in August 2011 as part of The Lake District Summer Music Festival, wrote:
The chorus covered itself with glory. Kendal's Pro Nobis Singers, coached by Clive Walkley, sang with style and spirit, and acted in a variety of roles as if to the manner born. Without conductor or copy, they achieved remarkable unanimity.