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Sanctissima (ORA Singers)

ORA Singers/Suzy Digby (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Plainchant; plus works by David Bednall, Julian Anderson, James MacMillan et al
ORA Singers/Suzy Digby
Harmonia Mundi HMM905334.35   85 mins (2 discs)

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Suzi Digby is a force of nature. She is a champion of youth choirs, an international competition judge, a conductor and has made television programmes. In 2016 she formed the ORA Singers who specialise in commissioning and recording new works that draw their inspiration from music of the Renaissance period. There are five such pieces on this two-disc release, and they appear alongside their early music models. Their texts
have been planned so that together they form a Vespers service for the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

The choir is very good, though with 20 members its forces are heavier than is now usual with earlier music, and the slightly echoey acoustic very occasionally ‘solidifies’ the texture (for example in Palestrina’s ‘Assumpta es Maria’). Even so, these are fine performances of new works. Julian Anderson’s riveting Magnificat is texturally inventive with an exquisite soprano solo part in verse three, Quia respexit – very effectively sung (by whom?). Another highlight is David Bednall’s ‘Assumpta es Maria’ with its lithe rhythms and interestingly harmonised plainsong in the second section. James MacMillan’s finely judged declamations of the hymn text ‘Ave maris stella’ are perfectly poised as ever. In some contemporary liturgical works the harmonies tend towards a kind of Marks and Spencer atonality,
soupy rather than gritty and expressive. There are patches of that here, and some plainsongs are delivered with oddly clipped phrasing (‘Laudate pueri’), but this very enterprising collection presents some excellent new music which will doubtless be gratefully purloined by many choirs.

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Anthony Pryer