Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wonder and mystery from The Sixteen

The Sixteen's Song of the Nativity is an outstanding Christmas disc of the more contemplative kind. There are celebratory pieces here, but the nativity is a low-key, hushed affair.
O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Putting across this combination of wonder and mystery requires great control and finesse, which Harry Christophers and his wonderful singers The Sixteen provide at the highest level, for example in this beautiful version by Morten Lauridsen which leads off the album.

The control and purity of the voices is really outstanding. Christophers and his choir sustain the long lines of Peter Warlock's great Bethlehem Down in spite of an audaciously slow speed. I wasn't convinced at first, but the beautiful sound they make almost convinces me the choice of tempo wasn't a mistake. The program doesn't provide much variety of mood or styles, but rather it provides a respite from Holiday hustle and bustle, and perhaps a chance to meditate upon more serious matters than shopping or parties. There are occasional breaks into less sophisticated and subtle music, including a number of rustic "traditional" songs where the singers sometimes indulge in a bit of Celtic celebration, but nothing too raucous! The album comes to a triumphant close with James Macmillan's O Radiant Dawn from his Strathclyde Motets, which is about light shining on "the darkness of those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."

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