Sacred Music: An Easter Celebration

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Coro
WORKS: Easter music from LSO St Luke’s presented by Simon Russell Beale
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: 16079

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Those expecting Easter sacred music might come away from Harry Christopher’s latest DVD feeling a tad short-changed. Even rewriting the title to read ‘Sacred Music: a Celebration at Easter’ would leave the diehard pedant with one chink in the titular armour.

Byrd’s Ye Sacred Muses, though a poignantly affecting work, is an unassailably secular lament on the death of Tallis – here a touching postscript to Tallis’s Salvator mundi, but given the programme’s bigger picture an odd inclusion nonetheless.

In truth Christophers isn’t so much lighting Pascal candles as fleshing out the recent release of the first batch of documentaries from the stylish BBC TV series Sacred Music. From plainchant to JS Bach, he’s bent on amplifying what were soundbites into complete movements and works – a live concert at LSO St Luke’s intercut with footage drawing on the series.

The opening Passiontide Vexilla Regis plainsong, given ethereal blue lighting and obligatory processional, certainly raises Easter expectations; but the narrative quickly jumps ship to the Gloria from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli before addressing the Christmas of Perotin’s Viderunt omnes (gutsily sung by a solo quartet), and delving into Tudor religious politics. 

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Easter isn’t entirely overlooked. The sumptuous three-choir Stabat Mater by Anerio makes effective use of St Luke’s balconies, and almost inevitably Allegri’s Miserere puts in a penitential appearance, Elin Manahan Thomas surfing the high Cs with effortless sublimity; but the last word (a glorious one at that) falls to a Marian motet by Palestrina. Its inclusion is baffling, but, like the entire concert, it’s delivered with the Sixteen’s customary ‘finish’ and plenitude. Paul Riley