International award-winning octet Voces8 has established itself as the foremost young British a cappella vocal group. Performing a repertoire ranging from Renaissance polyphony to unique jazz and pop arrangements, the group has been praised for stunning performance, exquisite singing and creating a sound that spans the entire range of vocal colour.
A Choral Tapestry
What people are saying
"VOCES8 are as good as any vocal ensemble I have heard for many a year and the material on this CD is well chosen and superbly sung."
Release date:6th Feb 2012
The award-winning group Voces8 is well-known for its wide-ranging programmes and accomplished technical control. In that sense the three centuries of music represented here (they skip over the 18th century) should come as no surprise, and neither will the virtuosic ensemble singing. In Monteverdi’s Cantate Dominum (this is his 1620 setting, not the 1615 one) the voices dance with incredible lightness, and the bell-like soprano voice of Andrea Haines provides the icing on the cake. In Tavener’s The Lamb the beautifully tuned chords hang in the air with a shimmering stillness, and in Tippett’s setting of the spiritual Go Down Moses the performance is gutsy and reverent by turn.
They do take some risks: in Byrd’s Vigilate, which they attack at breakneck speed, they are a little unstable; and in Brahms’s Unsere Vater some of the phrasing is rather clunky. On the other hand it would be difficult to find a recording of Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium which matched this one for intelligent understanding and musical nuance. Mostly the recording is very clear and balanced though it can be a bit dry. Oddly, seven of these pieces (by Brahms, Bruckner and Reger) appeared last year on another CD by Voces 8 on the Mirare label, but that still leaves 11 items performed in refreshing insightful ways.
Performance & Recording
BBC Music Magazine, Anthony Pryer
Voces8 are an eight-voiced vocal ensemble founded in 2003 by ex-choristers from Westminster Abbey. They have become known for their superb choral singing, developing a repertoire which encompasses everything from renaissance polyphony to contemporary a cappella.
On this disc they aim to reflect their diverse musical influences. The disc’s title is A Choral Tapestry, and diverse it certainly is with music ranging from Monteverdi through to Tavener. Though, in fact, their chosen repertoire mainly splits into three groups. Early music – Monteverdi, Palestrina, Byrd, Victoria and Gibbons; 19th century German romantic – Brahms, Reger, Bruckner and Rheinberger; contemporary – Tavener and Tippett, plus a spiritual arranged by David Blackwell. Brahms is the only composer represented by a multi-movement work, his Fest- und Gedenkspruche. The recital’s centre of gravity is very much German romantic, which isn’t a period that you associate with eight-voice vocal ensembles known for singing with one voice to a part. Generally the 19th century works are carefully chosen from pieces which reflect the composer’s interest in music of earlier periods.
They open with Bruckner’s glorious motet Os Justi which is quite superbly sung, though frankly I would have rather have liked a little more choral depth. Singing with only eight voices does mean that the group can achieve miraculous unanimity in the shaping of the phrases, but I just wanted a bit more weight. This is a very artful performance, where the singers take advantage of the remarkable degree of control that they have to shape the music.
The early works are sung with a very fine sense of line and pure tone – all rather cool and very English This beautifully moulded cleanliness works well for the Byrd and Palestrina but the Victoria could take far more. I longed for a blast of southern warmth or the sound of Westminster Cathedral’s vivid trebles. Only in the Monteverdi do we get the feeling that we really do travel to foreign climes. Gibbons’ O Clap your Hands is rather disappointing. Perhaps it’s the tempo but the line feels choppy and the English text just doesn’t come over.
In Brahms’ Warum is das Licht, the group’s smallness means that the chromatic lines are conveyed with fine accuracy, highlighting Brahms’ links to past composers. Some passages need more density of sound. This is more of a problem in the Brahms Fest- und Gedenkspruche; here the general sound feels too top heavy and I missed a sense of choral weight. Some of the complex passages just didn’t gel. I was far too conscious of a group of individual voices.
Of the two Reger pieces, Wir Glauben comes off best as its homophonic, choral-inspired textures seem to lend themselves to the ensemble’s treatment. In all the German pieces I was very conscious that the text was often under-played, which is a great disappointment given the diminutive ensemble and the relative closeness of the recording.
When we reach the 20th-century style and content gel beautifully so that Tippett’s Go down Moses is simply fabulous. David Blackwell’s spiritual arrangement is well done also, very much in the Tippett mould. Tavener’s The Lamb is simply superb, purity and accuracy combining in just the right way.
I found the order of the programme to be puzzling. For me the recital didn’t cohere and I rather regretted that the group had not concentrated on a single area. The 19th century works would have come over better if there had been more breadth. Adding some Mendelssohn and concentrating on the links to earlier chorale based music would have worked well. Equally, if they had reduced the number of German Romantic pieces and introduced some other flavours to create a real tapestry.
The CD leaflet does not really help with understanding the raison d’être behind the programme. There is a single fold-out leaflet with a highly stylised, very posed picture of the choir, plus texts, translations and a rather frustrating article about the music. Of their programme, it has this to say ‘The album aims to present both the music itself and the personalities involved in its creation and performance. In an exploration of complementary and contrasting sound worlds, harmony and text and vocal forces, VOCES8 creates a sonic tapestry weaving together individual voices and music to create this performance. The ensemble enters into a dialogue with music, seeking to present its vision whilst allowing the listener freedom for individual engagement.’
I found this disc by turns puzzling, frustrating and mesmerising. It contains some of the finest choral singing I have heard in a long time. Some of the performances are simply spellbinding. Then other items just don’t work as well for me; they fail to capitalise on the group’s strengths. Even then you still have to admire the technical tour de force of items like the Brahms – the brilliance of being able even to attempt this music. The pieces selected don’t, for me, coalesce into a real programme, particularly when they are arranged in what feels to me to be a rather haphazard order. Or perhaps I’m missing something.
Musicweb International, Robert Hugill
The pure, refined balance of Voces8 is to be heard nowhere on this disc to better effect than the opening number, Bruckner’s Os justi. Recorded in Brinkburn Priory, Northumberland, this mixed bag of a cappella favourites includes Byrd, Monteverdi, Victoria, Palestrina and Gibbons, as well as rarer items by Reger, Brahms and Rheinberger. Tavener’s song of innocence, The Lamb, is the only original contemporary composition. What appears at first as a rather arbitrary sequence, on closer inspection unfolds as a very satisfying programme, albeit one in which the recording is perhaps a little too closely miked.
Choir and Organ, May 2012, ****, Philip Reed
A wide-ranging recital – Palestrina to Tippett – from a talented young ensemble that contains many favourites: Tavener’s The Lamb rubs shoulders with Victoria’s 0 magnum mysterium and Bruckner’s Os Justi. Well-recorded but missing a precise response to each text and each style that could have made this disc a real winner.
Classical Music Magazine
VOCES8 is, as the name suggests, an acappella octet. Previous releases (some reviewed on this site) demonstrate their vocal prowess with comparisons being made with the King’s Singers and the Swingle Singers. Here we are closer to King’s territory with the vocal pyrotechnics under tight control as we tour vocal music across the centuries. All the pieces are spiritual and, indeed, two are Spirituals with the capital S: “Go Down Moses” in Tippett’s arrangement and “Steal Away” arranged by David Blackwell. Although it is near the end of the CD (Track 15 or 18) “Steal Away” is a good starting point as it segues into Rheinberger’s “Abendlied”, a lovely evening meditation which is followed by Tavener’s classic setting of Blake’s “The Lamb” which leads to the concluding “Agnus Dei” from Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices. The different pieces from 17th to 20th century harmonise so perfectly that we can only applaud whoever selected and sequenced them. By the way, we get the Kyrie from Byrd’s Mass near the beginning of the CD, between his “Vigilate” and Monteverdi’s “Cantate Domino”. Another sequence that flows very nicely indeed. The members of Loughborough-based VOCE8 were all choristers at Westminster Abbey and although some of their previous releases have been secular – and none the worse for that – this album is entirely sacred. Personally, I would prefer to swap one of the countertenors for an alto to get a different vocal blend (and I do not say better, merely different) as I am not overly fond of the tone of the typical countertenor. However, the two here, Chris Wardle and Barnaby Smith, are top singers and I would not want to sound a negative note so we will move on. The remaining six parts have two sopranos, two tenors and a single baritone and bass giving an excellent blend throughout. VOCE8 are as good as any vocal ensemble I have heard for many a year and the material on this CD is well chosen and superbly sung.
Cross Rhythms, Steven Whitehead
Following their Bach Motets, choral octet Voces8 branch further afield with A Choral Tapestry, programming devotional material from across the spectrum.
Thus do they shift from William Byrd’s “Vigilate”, with its interlocking madrigal lines, and the brisk interweavings of Monteverdi’s “Cantate Domino” to the more demotic modern approach of the spiritual “Go Down Moses”, arranged by Michael Tippett.
Bruckner’s “Os justi” opens matters with a perfect blend of calm contentment and soaring spirit, while Voces8’s technical range, taking in as it does blues and jazz, enables them to easily accommodate pieces like the gospel classic “Steal Away”. And moving further into the modern age, John Tavener’s setting of William Blake.
The Independent, Andy Gill
- Os Justi – Anton Bruckner – 4.41
- Vigilate – William Byrd – 3.16
- Kyrie (from the mass for four voices) – William Byrd – 2.19
- Cantate domino – Claudio Monteverdi – 1.44
- O magnum mysterium – T?mas Luis de Victoria – 4.09
- Magnificat primi toni – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – 4.25
- Warus ist das Licht gegeben? – Johannes Brahms – 8.18
- Go down Moses – Traditional Spiritual arr. Michael Tippett – 2.59
- O clap your hands – Orlando Gibbons – 3.55
- Das Agnus Dei – Max Reger – 1.59
- Wir glauben an eimen Gott – Max Reger – 1.35
- Fest- und Gedenkspr?che: i. Unsere V?ter hofften auf dich – Johannes Brahms – 1.39
- Fest- und Gedenkspr?che: ii. Wenn ein starker Gewappneter – Johannes Brahms – 2.19
- Fest- und Gedenkspr?che: iii. Wo ist ein so herrlich Volk – Johannes Brahms – 3.53
- Steal away – Traditional spiritual arr. David Blackwell – 4.10
- Abendlied – Josef Rheinberger – 2.34
- The lamb – John Tavener – 3.56
- Agnus dei (from the mass for four voices) – William Byrd – 3.57