More divine than human

Cornysh, Davy & Browne, Fawkyner, Lambe
Music from The Eton Choirbook: works by Fawkyner, Cornysh, Lambe, Davy & Browne
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
Catalogue Number:
AV 2167
BBC Music Magazine

Celebrated ensembles such as The Sixteen and the Cardinall’s Musick have given us superb recordings from the Eton Choir book – do we really need another? Absolutely.

What makes this disc entrancingly fresh is its use of boy choristers: their translucence as a choir, their colours as soloists, and their easy swing through florid passages inject lightness into the choir book’s dense compositions. Small wonder that King Henry VI required institutions to send their best boy trebles to the Chapel Royal.

These works, each of them over 13 minutes long, balance the large-scale against the small. Scoring telescopes in and out, dilating from one-part to multi-part settings and back. Registers spread from tightly paired lines and lengthy florid passages uncurl from the single seed of an idea.

The drama of this sound world lies in its shifting contrasts: striking juxtapositions of boys’ with men’s voices continually challenge the ear, particularly in Robert Davy’s In honore summe matris. Stephen Darlington masterfully paragraphs these monumental pieces through the careful pacing of his dynamics.

Only occasionally does the energy flag, as in the final solo sections of Davy’s antiphon. Compensating for such moments is the warmth of the acoustic, neatly captured by the sound engineering. This is a stellar recording. Berta Joncus

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