Child: Sacred Choral Music

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COMPOSERS: Child
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Sacred Choral Music
PERFORMER: Rachel Platt, Rebecca Outram (soprano), William Towers (countertenor), Timothy Mirfin (bass), Andrew Arthur, Jeremy Bines (organ); Gonville and Caius College Choir, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 182
William Child’s life (1606-97) spanned a turbulent century of change reflected in his music, a compendium of 17th-century styles. The full anthem Sing we merrily is in the grand early tradition of Byrd; the musical dereliction of the Commonwealth is mourned in O Lord God, the heathen are come; Italianate solo voices sing above organ continuo to a Latin text; Purcellian verse anthems reflect the Restoration. This undeservedly neglected repertoire (virtually unrepresented elsewhere on disc) is rich in colours, from solo ‘verses’ for three basses or the ethereal sound of two sopranos and two contraltos in a Magnificat, to the density of an eight-part Sanctus immersing the listener in slowly-shifting waves of sound.

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Such poise and technical control from a college choir, with its constant turnover of undergraduate voices, is remarkable. The very first track opens with a touch of nervous ardour. Thence, the choir shapes phrases with disarming ease. Voices aren’t always balanced – a dominant bass masks a more distant soprano; eight-part textures are rather middle-weighted. But ensemble, intonation and exuberance are deeply appealing, as is the sense of college chapel ambience, introduced a few seconds before the first track, and sustained until the end. George Pratt