COMPOSERS: Arvo Pärt,Thomas Tallis,William Byrd
ALBUM TITLE: The Deer’s Cry
WORKS: Byrd: Diliges Dominum; Christe qui Lux; Miserere mihi, Domine; Tribue, Domine; Emendemus in melius; O Lux beata Trinitas; Ad Dominum cum tribularer; Laetentur coeli; Pärt: The Deer’s Cry; Nunc dimittis; The Woman With The Alabaster Box; Tallis: When Jesus went into Simon the Pharisee’s house; Tallis/Byrd: Miserere nostri
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: Coro COR 16140
In Irish legend, King Loeguire, lying in wait to ambush and kill Saint Patrick, unaccountably sees only a herd of deer go by. The hymn that Patrick and his followers were singing became known as The Deer’s Cry, and Arvo Pärt’s setting of its text is central to The Sixteen’s new recital.
It’s a deceptively easy-looking piece on the page, but keeping its halting, minimalist ground-rhythm pulsing meaningfully, and building the slow-burn crescendo over several minutes requires advanced levels of technical proficiency. That, of course, is what The Sixteen majors in, and its performance combines a scrupulous accuracy with a pregnant sense of ritual and comtemplative mystery.
Occasionally the cast-iron confidence of the singing can seem to work against the grain of textual meaning. The images of frailty, imprecation and humility in Byrd’s Tribue, Domine, for instance, are swallowed up in a reading which in places is almost relentlessly forward-moving and bullish in its style of articulation. For delicacy, turn to Pärt’s The Woman with the Alabaster Box, where Harry Christophers, abetted by his singers, displays a faultless sense of phrasing and rhetoric in a compelling unravelling of the text from Matthew’s gospel. Pärt’s Nunc dimittis brings a remarkable performance, breath-catchingly grief-stricken in the opening stanza, yet flaming into life on the word ‘Lumen’, with basses thrumming resonantly in the coda.
Mike Hatch’s recording places the choir ideally in a sympathetic acoustic, and sounds particularly evocative in the high-resolution version available on download.