Musicweb-International.com, May 2010
All these recordings place Allegri in the context of music from his near contemporaries, which you may well prefer. The juxtaposition of old, not so old, and new on the Signum CD works well, but I know that some listeners prefer to keep their musical periods separate.
Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus, which opens the CD, is also fairly readily available on record. It might have helped to make the Signum recording more attractive if other settings of this piece had been included – the Mozart, for example. It receives a beautiful performance here but, other things being equal, I prefer to hear this work in the context of other music by Byrd or his contemporaries. That can be done very inexpensively by purchasing the EMI recording, Essential Renaissance, which I have already mentioned. It’s performed there by King’s College, Cambridge, Choir under the direction of Sir David Willcocks; it doesn’t quite match up as a performance or recording to the best recent versions, but the Willcocks manner always brought out the affective quality of the music more openly than the new Signum version, even though he takes the music at a slightly faster pace.
Once again, I could fill the rest of this review with recommendations for Ave verum Corpus recorded within the context of Byrd’s own music, but I shall content myself with recommending the Tallis Scholars again, either on their superb bargain 2-CD set, The Tallis Scholars Sing Byrd (CDGIM208), where the work is coupled with the three Masses and more, or on Playing Elizabeth’s Tune (CD, CDGIM992, SACD, GIMSA592, or DVD GIMDP901 or GIMDN902), recorded in conjunction with a TV programme. Once again the Scholars, who are not noted for rushing through music, take the work rather faster than the Armonico Consort, to its advantage, I think. If you are looking for Ave verum coupled with one of Byrd’s Masses, you can find it with the 4-part Mass on Nimbus NI5287, sung by Christ Church, Oxford, College Choir under Stephen Darlingotn – see review – reverentially sung, but again taken rather faster than by Armonico Tributo.
I liked the Armonico Consort in Tallis’s Pentecost music Loquebantur variis linguis and I didn’t find their tempo too slow. Once again, however, the Tallis Scholars sing the music of their namesake slightly more briskly and make it sound even more right. As so often, tempo alone is not the only consideration; I could live with either version, or, indeed, with The Sixteen on their all-Tallis recording (Chandos CHAN0513), but the Scholars have the edge in terms of price – a considerable chunk of Tallis’s music on two CDs for the price of one. Don’t forget, too, that all these Gimell recordings include texts and translations. (The Tallis Scholars Sing Tallis, CDGIM203).
I must not forget to add that Signum themselves have a wonderful complete recording of Tallis’s music in their catalogue, performed by Chapelle du Roi/Alistair Dixon; Loquebantur variis linguis is on Volume 4 (SIGCD10)- again, it’s taken at a faster pace than by Armonico Consort.
At the same time as this new Signum recording I have been listening to a CD of Renaissance music sung by Cheltenham College Chamber Choir on Herald (HAVPCD351), which includes Loquebantur variis linguis. Initial listening suggests that I shall be giving that CD a firm recommendation, not least for the Tallis work which concludes the programme. The Tallis Scholars and the Cheltenham Choir both take the work significantly faster than Armonico Consort, whose performance, once again, is beautiful at the cost of being a little too drawn-out.
Armonico Consort also stress the beauty of the final work from the sixteenth century, Sheppard’s Libera nos, again, I would suggest, by dint of taking it a little too slowly. It is a prayer for liberation from sin, but I would suggest that it needs to be taken just a shade faster, as it is by The Sixteen on Hyperion. Their recording is available on an inexpensive 2-for-1 Dyad set or, more inexpensively still, on a 10-CD set The Golden Age of English Polyphony, which I made Bargain of the Month (CDS44401/10 – see review and review by Ralph Moore).
If you subscribe to the Naxos Music Library and wish to check my reservations for yourself, this Signum recording is available there – click here. The Library lists eleven other recordings of Byrd’s Ave verum for comparison, including The Tallis Scholars and Christ Church versions. Several of the other recordings which I have mentioned are also available from the Library, including Chapelle du Roi in Tallis.
Those who are not deterred by the mixture of periods here may rest assured that the more recent music fits well with the 16th-century items. Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, for example, slots seamlessly on track 2 between the Byrd (track 1) and Tallis (track 3). Here, too, and especially in the GÃ³recki Totus Tuus, a piece which could well have been written by a Renaissance composer restored to life in the late 20th-century, the long vocal lines suit the music well and there is never any sense that the length causes any strain in the singing.
Robert Pearsall’s Lay a Garland forms a perfect bridge between the earlier and later composers. I don’t think that I’ve heard this work before but it epitomises Pearsall’s place as one of the earliest revivers of Renaissance music and it receives an attractive performance here. I almost preferred it to the well-known Tavener Song for Athene which follows – perhaps that music is too familiar now to sound fresh, or the performance just a touch too reverential as a result of its association with the funeral of Princess Diana.
The Bruckner receives a good performance but, as with the earlier music, I would have preferred to hear it in context with his other music, for example on Hyperion CDA66062, where the Corydon Singers under Matthew Best perform it in the company of some of Bruckner’s other short choral works. That version is also available on a 3-CD set, CDS44071/3. (Don’t forget their recording of Bruckner’s Mass in e minor and other works on the inexpensive Hyperion Helios label, CDH55277 – see review).
The final work on the Signum CD, Jonathan Robert’s Hope finds a way, has, to my knowledge, no current recorded rival. It’s an attractive piece by a young composer who deserves to be heard, even if he seems yet not to have found a very distinctive voice – you may hear shades of Adiemus in the background – and it’s well performed.
The recording is good throughout and the notes informative. I retain my reservation about the slow tempi of most of the earlier music, but it isn’t strong enough to withhold a recommendation. The lack of texts in a premium-price recording is much more serious and must be regarded as a serious reservation in an otherwise favourable review. I would willingly have forgone the photograph which takes up all of page 9 and the details about the performers for the sake of those texts. The fact that I know most of them or can easily look them up is neither here nor there; others, especially fledgling listeners, will not be able to.
International Record Review, May 2010
Compilations of ‘Choral Classics’ and the like are legion, but some are more successful than others in providing a satisfying listening experience as a whole. With ‘Naked Byrd’, the Armonico Consort, which was formed by its current Artistic Director Christopher Monks and had its debut with Emma Kirkby in 2001, provides just such an experience by the careful balancing of styles and a consistently high standard of performance.
The recording is apparently compiled from the live concert programme ‘Naked Byrd’, which features ‘music by composers who wore their hearts on their sleeves and whose art saw their emotions laid bare’, interspersed with chant and violin improvisations. In his booklet note Monks says of the composers here represented: ‘Revealing naked sentiments through their music is as a response to a religious theme, whether through the suppression of particular religious practices or the influence of religious ideals themselves.’ Alas, there are chant or violin improvisations to be heard here; but there are also some of the most well-known a cappella works from the Renaissance to the present day, sung by an ensemble that knows how to avoid histrionics while wearing its heart on its sleeve.
The opening motet ‘Ave verum corpus’ by William Byrd, from his first cycle of Gradualia (1605), is characterized by exquisitely shaped phrasing and an expansive tempo, making the greater dynamic range of the following 0 Magnum Mysterium by contemporary composer Marten Lauridsen seem like natural progression, an opening out, into a larger world. Tallis’s respond for Pentecost, Loqubantur variis linguis, receives a performance that is both dramatic and subtle â€“ the final ‘Alleluia’ is a knock- out â€“ preparing the way for the rarefied atmosphere of the ubiquitous Miserere Mei by Allegri, which glows here with a delicate solemnity. It’s a pity the soprano soloist wasn’t identified: she strikes me as ideal, possessing a kind of controlled fragility that is extremely affecting. John Sheppard’s strangely modern-sounding antiphon Libera nos, Salva nos makes a fine partner for GÃ³recki’s Totus Tuus, whose ringing opening chords and ecstatic crescendos tempered by hushed passages find their perfect interpreters in the Armonico Consort. Robert Pearsall’s nineteenth-century madrigal, a setting of a text from The Maid’s Tragedy by Francis Beaumont, spookily seems to combine characteristics of the two previous works while stretching the Consort’s expressive range further again.
Where would any compilation of this kind be without Tavener’s Song for Athene? Of course it’s given as heartfelt a performance as one would wish for while forming a meditative prelude to Bruckner’s richly conceived motet Ave Maria, in which Monks steers the Consort through the vast caverns of the composer’s sound-world with consummate skill and unerring taste. The result is a rendering both transparent and monumental. Young composer Jonathan Roberts’s beautiful Hope finds a way for harp and upper voices brings us back to earth – but an earth resembling heaven. The sound recording, made at the Saxon Sanctuary, Wootton Wawen, is excellent. Adam Binks’s booklet notes are brief but informative (though it’s a pity there are no song texts or translations); the cover boasts Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. All in all, this is a very attractive package indeed.Â