Choral works by Gibbons, Britten, Byrd, Parry, Eric Whitacre, Cecilia McDowall, Jonathan Dove et al
Sam Dressel (tenor), Mary Bevan (soprano), Nick Deutsch (oboe, cor anglais), Alexander Hamilton (organ), Andrea Haines (ocarina); Academy of Ancient Music; VOCES8/Barnaby Smith
Voces8 Records VCM126A 123:01 mins (2 discs)
Corralled into four chapters entitled ‘Remembrance’, ‘Devotion’, ‘Redemption’ and ‘Elemental’, Voces8’s 15th birthday present is nothing if not eclectic. It doesn’t just make bedfellows of the likes of Gibbons and Ešenvalds, Parry and Paulus, Monteverdi and Mahler; it casts its net geographically wide, includes premiere recordings of works written for the group by Jonathan Dove and Mårten Jansson, steps out instrumentally in the company of a youthful Bach and proposes two a cappella arrangements. These include a notably unsentimental account of the Pie Jesu from Fauré’s Requiem and, plundering Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’. The latter shouldn’t work, but somehow it does as Mary Bevan’s gleaming soprano soars above a texture including cor anglais/oboe commentary from Nick Deutsch.
Whether or not you buy wholeheartedly into the concept, the extended programme certainly plays to Voces8’s strengths. A velvety voluptuousness prevails, caressing everything with the choir’s impeccable blend and tuning. The closing bars of Parry’s ‘There is an Old Belief’ light up as though the sun were moving languidly across stained glass; and serenely unruffled Gibbons prefaces a sonorously burnished account of Byrd’s ‘Ne Irascaris, Domine – Civitas Sancti Tui’.
But the perfection can prove distancing even as it seduces. For all its immaculate refinement the ‘house sound’ tends to minimise the differences between composers and styles. That said, whether limpid, light-footed or virile, the singers have the measure of Britten’s ‘Hymn to Saint Cecilia’; and, abetted by The Academy of Ancient Music, an intimate buoyancy informs Barnaby Smith’s shapely direction of Bach’s Cantata BWV 150.