COMPOSERS: Barber,Ives,Stravinsky,Tippett & Poulenc
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Ë la Gloire de Dieu
WORKS: Works by Ives, Barber, Stravinsky, Tippett & Poulenc
PERFORMER: The Sixteen; BBC Philharmonic/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16013 Reissue (1994, 1991)
Naxos is not the only label to benefit from the purchase of former Collins recordings:from Coro, official label of The Sixteen, comes the reissue of a stash of mainstream material. Nearly all the pieces collected here face stiff competition in the catalogue. Even so, the success of newer versions, benchmark or not, will be measured in part against their stature.
Another virtue of their reappearance is the chance to catch up on what might otherwise have been missed. On a personal note, in this case it is Poulenc’s Sept répons des ténèbres, something of a cause célèbre for Harry Christophers, and as performed with these vocal and instrumental artists, a shining testimony to the pious brilliance of their composer’s art. Whereas the readings of the Five Negro Spirituals from Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time are good, but take their place among many other excellent versions, and Barber’s Agnus Dei, a vocal reworking of his Adagio for Strings, succeeds by virtue of failing to droop, the Poulenc is pure delight. This is more than can be said of the first movement of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, which dangerously exceeds the composer’s given tempo. And should we be amused, baffled or provoked by the presence of Ives’s The Unanswered Question in a disc entitled À la gloire de Dieu?
In making tortured flesh manifest in music, the piercing suspensions of Lotti’s Cruxifixus leave no room for doubt. In Allegri’s Miserere, as in Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, hugely disciplined singing showcases each phrase. Less incandescent than the Tallis Scholars in the Mass (Gimell), and less devotionally intense than the Westminster Cathedral Choir (Hyperion), in Palestrina’s Stabat mater, The Sixteen brings to the music’s quantitative rhythms and magical harmonies a real sense of wonder, plus, in the chordal opening, a fine uniformity of attack. Nicholas Williams