Collection: The Sacred Flame

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COMPOSERS: Collection: The Sacred Flame
LABELS: Collegium
WORKS: Choral works by Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, Anerio, Gesualdo, Lassus, Sweelinck, Buxtehude, Victoria, Josquin Desprez, Hassler, Schütz, JS Bach & John IV King of Portugal
PERFORMER: Cambridge Singers; La Nuova Musica/John Rutter
CATALOGUE NO: COLCD 134

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Handsomely-packaged in a crimson and gold cardboard fold-out sleeve showcasing a 15th-century painting of angelic musicians, this collection features most of the usual suspects in Renaissance sacred choral music and brings us into the Baroque era with Schütz and Bach.

Until fairly recently, the gorgeous Bach motet featured here was catalogued as a cantata and lay neglected amongst the larger-scale cantatas, despite being described by the composer himself as a ‘motetto’. Its inclusion is commendable.

Rutter’s theme is ‘the marvellous wealth of sacred music created out of the ferment of the Reformation’. He sets out to show how the Catholic south of Europe was also affected through the Counter-Reformation, and how the characteristics of secular music invaded the territory of sacred music, which brought the sounds of opera and even street music into the church.

Given Rutter’s emphasis on the influence of popular music – whether from tavern or opera house – the singing often seems rather staid. Several of the pieces included in this collection are also available in more sprightly, timbrally brighter recordings by other choirs.

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That said, these are dedicated performances. They sometimes sound as if they could date from the 1950s or ’60s, but many listeners will surely welcome that mellower, less athletic approach. Barry Witherden