Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook

Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook Legacy
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
CORO. COR16166. 66’37

Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook Legacy

You need to read the title of this recording carefully – The Eton Choirbook Legacy, the key word being ‘Legacy’. Alongside pieces by Walter Lambe, William Cornysh and Robert Wylkynson from the famous c1500 Eton College Choirbook are compositions by five contemporary composers, commissioned by the Sixteen’s Genesis Foundation to contrast with and compliment the Eton pieces. Four are direct responses to Eton Choirbook pieces, the fifth is Stephen Hough’s four-movement Hallowed, composed for the British Museum’s recent ‘Living with Gods’ exhibition. Continue reading

Song of the Nativity

Song of the Nativity
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
Coro COR 16146. 73’58

The Sixteen’s Christmas offering combines traditional with contemporary-lite pieces that, according to the Coro website “by their unashamed simplicity, captures the joy and sincerity of this most wonderful of seasons. This album provides a perfect peaceful and uplifting antidote to the hectic pre-Christmas rush.”. That sums it up pretty well. The composers represented range from  Henry Walford Davies (b.1869) to still-living composers ranging from Morten Lauridsen (b.1943) to the youngest composer, Will Todd (b.1970). With what I assume is aimed at a Classic FM audience that The Sixteen seem to have captivated, there is nothing to frighten the musical horses but, equally little, if anything, to encourage younger or more adventurous composers.

The early pieces work best, but the contemporary compositions left me yearning for something more, err, contemporary.

Durante: Requiem

Francesco Durante: Requiem in C minor, Organ Concerto in B flat
Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Soloists from The Sixteen, Oxford Baroque
Stephen Darlington, Clive Driskill-Smith
Coro COR16147. 63’27

Durante: Requiem in C, Organ Concerto in B flat.

Better known as a teacher (of the likes of Pergolasi, Jommelli, and Piccini), the compositions of Francesco Durante (1684-1755) have been rather overlooked since his death. Born near Naples, he studied with A. Scarlatti and (possibly) Pasquini and spent a brief time in Rome before returning to Naples where he became musical director of a number of conservatories; by that time extending their original 16th century remit from the care of orphans to include specialist teaching for paying music students. Although some commentators complimented Durante on his compositions, they tended to focus on his “correct writing” and his facility with harmony and counterpoint, factors which go to make this Requiem so fascinating.

The Requiem in C minor is thought to have been first performed in S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli in Rome in 1746, although there is some doubt Continue reading

The Old Colony Collection

The Old Colony Collection
Handel and Haydn Society Chorus, Harry Christophers
Coro COR16145. 69’35

Music by James Kent, Thomas Linley, Charles Avison, Samuel Chapple, Samuel Webbe, Handel Mozart, and Mendelssohn.

The Old Colony CollectionThe Handel and Haydn Society Chorus of Boston was formed in 1815 and is the oldest still performing arts organisation in the US. It was formed to ‘improve the style of performing sacred music’ and to introduce the music of its titular composers. Interestingly their quest to perform the ‘old and the new’ actually referred to Handel as the former and Haydn as the latter. It was not all education and graft though – in his introductory note, Harry Christophers mentions that ‘inspiring libations to be had and membrers were often seen heading downstairs for a break’ – a practice referred to as ‘tuning’!

During last year’s Bicentennial, some of their early music publications came to light, one being The Old Colony Collection, its crumbling leather Continue reading

Helper and Protector

Helper and Protector
Italian Maestri in Poland
The Sixteen, Eamonn Dougan
Coro COR16141. 67’32

Eamonn Dougan, associate conductor of The Sixteen, continues his exploration of music from Poland with this CD of music by Italian musicians in the late 16th century during the reign of Sigismund III Vasa. Sigismund III ruled the Polish/Lithuanian state at a time of religious upheaval. Raised a Catholic his Polish mother in the Protestant Sweden of his father (the King of Sweden), he soon became involved in the Counter-Reformation, seeking out musicians from Rome to help in his quest.

The most notably of these was Luca Marenzio, represented here principally by his superb Missa super Iniquos odio habui. This is the first complete recording of this work, much of which Continue reading

Monteverdi: Messa a Quattro voci

Monteverdi: Messa a Quattro voci – Vol 1.
The Sixteen
Coro COR16142. 71’29

Monteverdi: Dixit Dominus (Primo), Confitebor tibi Domine (Secondo), Lauda Jerusalem; Cavalli: Magnificat; Monteverdi: Laetatus sum, Nisi Dominus, Laudate pueri, Laetaniae della Beata Vergine, Beatus vir.

Monteverdi: Messa a quattro voci et salmi of 1650 Volume IIn the last two years of his life, Monteverdi collected a substantial amount of his music for publication (the Madrigali guerrieri et amorisi, 1638, and Salve morale et spirituale, 1641), reflecting his musical output over the previous decades. After his death, one of his publishers had the good sense, or the commercial sense, to put together some unpublished manuscripts to form the 1650 Messa a 4 v. et salmi a 1–8 v. e parte da cappella & con le litanie della B.V. This is the first of two CDs from The Sixteen of music from this posthumous collection: the Mass setting of the title will be on the second volume. This CD includes a selection of liturgical pieces, but not in any specific liturgical context, with several Vespers Psalms, a Litany to the Virgin Mary and a Magnificat by Cavalli who probably assisted in the preparation of the publication. Continue reading

The Sixteen: The Deer’s Cry

The Sixteen: The Deer’s Cry
Coro COR16140. 66’52

Tallis/Byrd: Miserere nostri
Tallis: When Jesus went into Simon the Pharisee’s house.
Byrd: Diliges Dominum, Christe qui Lux Miserere mihi, Domini, Tribue Domine, Emendemus in melius, O Lux beata Trinitas, Ad Dominum cum tribularer, Laetentur coeli;
Pärt: The Deer’s Cry, Nunc dimittis The Woman With The Alabaster Box;

The Deer’s Cry: The Sixteen sing Pärt, Byrd & TallisIf you are mathematically minded, this might be the CD for you. Some of the most complex examples of English contrapuntal wizardry from Tallis and Byrd are balanced by more recent, but equally complex and evocative music, from the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt. As the programme note explains, “Here, Tallis and Byrd meet Pärt on common ground”, although at times, Pärt’s music can sound earlier than that of Tallis and Byrd with its sense of mediaeval structure and texture. This CD will whet your appetite for The Sixteen’s 2016 Choral Pilgrimage, when you can experience this music performed live in some of the most beautiful venues the UK can offer.

The CD opens with Byrd’s extraordinary eight-voice Diliges Dominum, a palindrome (or ‘crab canon’) that sounds exactly the same (words excepted) whether performed forwards or backwards. Almost certainly an act of pure Continue reading

Haydn: Symphony 7 & 83, Violin Concerto in C

Haydn: Symphony 7 & 83, Violin Concerto in C
Handel and Haydn Society, Aisslinn Nosky, violin, Harry Christophers
Coro COR 16139. 74’24

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 7 & 83 & Violin Concerto in C majorAlthough Bach is something of a God-like figure for me, I think he would be rather scary to actually meet. I have often felt that I would love to have sat at a nearby table where I could overhear Bach, but would rather actually meet and converse with Haydn. The pieces on this CD demonstrate something of those aspects of Haydn’s character that make him appear so approachable. Amongst the first works that Haydn wrote after his 1761 arrival at the Esterházy court were the three symphonies based on the times of the day – Le main, Le midi and Le soir. Many players in the orchestra were already friends of his from Vienna, and these three symphonies were an inspired calling card for their new musical director, with most of the players given key solo moments. Continue reading

J S Bach: Organ Works Vol III

J S Bach: Organ Works Vol III
Robert Quinney
Coro COR16132. 61’31

J.S. Bach: Organ Works Vol. IIIThis timely (but subtle) release for the season includes three choral preludes on the Advent choral Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, the Italianate Pastorella and the Canonic Variations on the Christmas choral, Vom Himmel hoch, together with the Prelude and Fugue in C (BWV 547) which some commentators have associated with Christmas performance. These works are enclosed within the well-known Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (BWV 542) and the final exhilarating Prelude and Fugue in G (BWV 541).

Robert Quinney plays the 1976 Metzler organ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, built in the case of the 1694/1708 ‘Father’ Bernard Smith organ, and retaining several Smith pipes in the Hauptwerk chorus. Although not up to the ‘authenticity’ Continue reading

Haydn: The Creation

Haydn: The Creation
Handel + Haydn Society, Harry Christophers
CORO: COR16135. 51’39+46’36

Sarah Tynan, soprano; Jeremy Ovenden, tenor; Matthew Brook, bass-baritone

Boston’s Handel + Haydn Society gave the first US performance of Haydn’s The Creation in 1819, just three years after their foundation, having performed Part One in their first year. Their name (at the time, a representation of their interest in ‘old’ and ‘new’ music), has a resonance with The Creation. It was Haydn’s response to hearing Handel’s Isreal in Egypt and Messiah in the 1791 Westminster Abbey Handel Festival, with a large choir and orchestra of more than 100 people. Two hundred years after their foundation, the Handel + Haydn Society’s bicentennial season ended with two performances in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Boston on 1 and 3 May 2015. This double CD is a live recording of those performances. I didn’t detect any audience noise or other potential live recording mishaps, but certainly detected the thrill and exhilaration of live music making. It bubbles over with the energy and vitality of a live performance, rather than a carefully crafted studio recording. Continue reading

Flight of Angels

Flight of Angels
The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage 2015
Music by Francisco Guerrero & Alonso Lobo
Concert – Winchester Cathedral. 4 Sept 2015.
CD – Coro COR16128. 63’52

Guerrero: Duo seraphim clamabant, Gloria (Missa Surge propera), Laudate Dominum, Maria Magdalene, Credo (Missa de la batalla escoutez), Vexilla Regis, Agnus Dei (Missa Congratulamini mihi);

Lobo: Kyrie (Missa Maria Magdalene), Libera me, Ave Regina coelorum, Ave Maria, Versa est in luctum.

After a summer break, The Sixteen started the autumn leg of their 15th annual Choral Pilgrimage in spectacular style in the splendid surroundings of Winchester Cathedral. This year’s programme focuses on two 16th century composers connected with Seville Cathedral: Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) and his pupil and assistant Alonso Lobo (1555-1617). Continue reading