Stella (ORA Singers)
ORA Singers/Suzi Digby (Harmonia Mundi)
Stella – Renaissance Gems and their Reflections, Vol. 3
Works by Victoria, Francisco Coll, Cecilia McDowall, Will Todd et al
ORA Singers/Suzi Digby
Harmonia Mundi HMM905341 71:56 mins
This skilfully crafted sequence takes a clutch of Marian works by the Spanish Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria and interlaces them with contemporary pieces – including four new commissions – inspired by the same texts. Some of the pairings are natural bedfellows: Victoria’s perfumed setting of the Song of Songs text Vidi speciosam, for instance, sits harmoniously alongside an equally ecstatic response to the same words by the English composer Will Todd. There are more disturbing juxtapositions: the luminous serenity of Victoria’s Ave Maria Stella is cut short with a turbulent new work by his compatriot, Francisco Coll, whose Stella (specially commissioned) is a stark but hauntingly beautiful exploration of vocal extremes, dissonances and spectral sounds. From it, Victoria’s Alma Redemptoris Mater emerges like a vision of light in the dark, and in turn gives way to Cecilia McDowall’s setting of the same text, which weaves florid vocal garlands into a Gothic-style motet.
Other highlights are Mark Simpson’s Ave Maria, with its oscillating moods of joy and foreboding; Alexander Campkin’s Ave Maria caelorum, whose stratospheric cascades of sound hypnotise, and Julian Wachner’s Regina coeli, threaded with memories of Victoria’s setting of the same text. This tour de force contrasts registers, dynamics, timbres and textures in a celestial vocal tapestry.
Suzi Digby coaxes highly expressive performances from the ORA Singers. Despite the wide ranges in dynamics, tessiture and repertoire, the voices are never forced and their pristine, resonant sound is rapturous.