Voice of the Turtle Dove
This disc is a set of re-recorded single movements from The Sixteen’s earlier large-scale Tudor projects. Characterised by Harry Christophers as a ‘return to roots’, the programme is cleverly designed to showcase the strengths of featured composers: the sensuality of Mundy’s voice pairing, the ingenuity of Sheppard’s use of plainchant, the particularity of Davy’s textures.
The ‘return’ raises questions: have the artists’ interpretations matured? Does showcasing three composers rather than one undermine or enhance our appreciation of authorial ingenuity? Works of sprawling architecture prove worth revisiting: The Sixteen’s delivery of Mundy’s Vox patris caelestis is more incisive, their texturing denser, their climaxes more searing than, for instance, in their 2002 Hyperion recording, sung a tone higher. Conversely, more intimate, close-voiced settings, like Sheppard’s In manus tuas (I and III) lack the dreamy mystique of earlier readings. Ranging composers alongside each other throws their achievements into relief, but not always felicitously: Richard Davy is dwarfed by Mundy and Sheppard. I also missed hearing, as one does on a dedicated disc, how a composer’s voice emerges out of many compositions. The grander 2013 acoustic places more distance between listener and performers than did past recordings.
The artistry of The Sixteen makes this disc worthwhile. More satisfying, however, would be if the group would re-engage with under- or never-recorded Tudor masterpieces, rather than with its own earlier performances.