Ludford: Missa Benedicta et venerabilis; Antiennes votives

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WORKS: Missa Benedicta et venerabilis; Antiennes votives
PERFORMER: Choir of New College, Oxford/
Edward Higginbottom


Ludford? This disc shows why scholars are so excited about having recently discovered this composer. A contemporary of John Taverner, Ludford surpassed the achievements of Eton choirbook composers, writing vocal lines at once exuberant, intricate and fantastically combined. Edward Higginbottom’s reading of this score is eagle-eyed and compelling. Symmetries and subtle variations between sequences, contrasts of texture, register shifts and elegantly tapered cadences are carefully articulated. Most importantly, his dynamics dramatically heighten climaxes implied in the score; we are led through a series of melodic arches whose splendour dazzles. The choir is sensitive to Higginbottom’s aims, combining freshness with sincerity in their performance. The vocalists’ ensemble is superior to that of most choirs and the distinctiveness of each line makes luminous even the thickest sections. There are, however, surface flaws: tenors sometimes lack blend and the trebles suffer occasionally from fragility and/or colourlessness. Sound reproduction is sturdy but uninventive, with segments where the top overwhelms the lower line left uncorrected. That the recording sprang from an international festival perhaps accounts for the disc’s hands-off engineering. Such quibbles should not detract from the significance of this performance. Scrupulous scholarship, masterful conducting and committed singing merge to restore the legacy of one of England’s most inventive 16th-century composers. Berta Joncus