The Deer's Cry (CD review)

Music of Arvo Part, William Byrd, and Thomas Tallis. Harry Christophers, The Sixteen. CORO COR16140.

The juxtaposition of works on this album by modern Estonian composer Arvo Part (b. 1935) and Renaissance English composers William Byrd (c. 1540-1623) and Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) may at first blush seem odd. Yet the combination works surprisingly well.

As almost everyone knows by now, The Sixteen and its founder and conductor Harry Christophers are a vocal and period-instrument ensemble founded by Mr. Christophers in 1977. They deal largely in Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical repertoire but have obviously here expanded their scope to include modern music. With over 130 recordings and numerous awards to their credit, one can understand their critical and popular success.

Here are the track listings for the present album:
1. Byrd: Diliges Dominum
2. Byrd: Christe qui lux es et dies
3. Part: The Deer's Cry
4. Byrd: Emendemus in melius
5. Part: The Woman with the Alabaster Box
6. Byrd: Miserere mihi, Domine
7. Byrd: Ad Dominum cum tribularer
8. Tallis/Byrd: Miserere nostri
9. Tallis: When Jesus went
10. Byrd: O lux beata Trinitas
11. Part: Nunc dimittis
12. Byrd: Laetentur coeli
13. Byrd: Tribue, Domine

The total timing for the album runs very nearly sixty-seven minutes.

Harry Christophers
So, why include the music of Arvo Part among that of Byrd and Tallis? Well, although both Byrd and Tallis wrote some secular music, the bulk of their output was sacred. Byrd, for instance, wrote sacred music for use in Anglican and Catholic services, and Tallis (Byrd's teacher, by the way) worked at a Benedictine priory, Waltham Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, and the Chapel Royal, among other places. And of Part? He, too, writes both classical and religious music. In fact, he is one of the most important and certainly one of the most prominent of today's composers of spiritual music. Yes, as I said, the combination of composers on the album works.

As always, The Sixteen sing in a heavenly manner, and their voices sound rich and full in harmony, their intonation flawless, and their commitment to the music as emotionally vibrant as ever. What we've got as a result is beautiful music, beautifully performed.

Now, what did I like best? That's hard to answer because everything about the music and the singing is so letter-perfect. Of course, the Byrd and Tallis pieces go without saying. Their music has stood the test of time and been enjoyed by and inspirational to people for centuries. However, Part's music in particular impressed me, starting with the album's title tune, The Deer's Cry. Like the other two of the composer's selections, it's partly new, partly old; partly modern, partly ancient. Obviously, Part is a man of many parts. Sorry. The Deer's Cry is an updated setting of an incantation written in the fifth century. It's appropriately solemn yet wonderfully uplifting. The Woman with the Alabaster Box sets a narrative from Matthew 26:6-13. But equally impressive is Nunc dimittis, written in Part's tintinnabular or bell-like style; it's beautiful, and as with the rest of the album the singers do it full justice.

Producer Mark Brown and engineer Mike Hatch recorded the album at the Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, London in October 2015. Here is the only minor fly in the ointment: The venue is highly reverberant, and, consequently, voices sometimes appear to have a touch too much bloom and echo to them. Still, the ambient glow makes the choir sound more "heavenly," even it doesn't do as much to clarify the album's transparency as it could. There is also a slight upper midrange brightness to the sound, which doesn't hurt and probably actually helps make the voices appear more distinct. There is much to like here, so I'm not really complaining.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


No comments:

Post a Comment

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa