Treasures of England

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Parsons; White; Tye
LABELS: Coro
ALBUM TITLE: Treasures of England
WORKS: Parsons: Ave Maria; O bone Jesu; White: Lamentations a 5; Christe qui lux es et dies IV; Tye: Mass ‘Euge bone’ – Agnus Dei; Peccavimus cum patribus nostris
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16056

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Renowned for their blend, ensemble, suppleness and warm colours, The Sixteen would seem the perfect group to perform this sublime and complex music. Missing from director Harry Christophers’s reading, however, are meaningful insights into these expressions of worship. Drive for perfection in choral effects leads Christophers to smooth out the idiosyncrasies that are a chief source of these works’ expressiveness. Precision of sound formation frequently overrides the natural ebb and flow derived from either declamatory sense or the sung line itself. In Parson’s Ave Maria, the rhythm and meaning of the words should propel the line forward; here, however, the ensemble’s lugubrious tempo, restrained dynamics, and careful tapering of phrases make the unfolding of meaning seem pedestrian. The invocations of Christ prefacing each verse of Parson’s motet O bone Jesu are also listless; what follows is perfectly executed but lacks spontaneity. Christophers’s claim in the notes that ‘these pieces…are just waiting to be discovered’ is disingenuous. While this release’s unique combination of Tudor polyphony may represent a benchmark of sorts, all the works on this collection have been recorded. And though Sally Dunkley’s editions for Christophers doubtless helped realise the project, alternative interpretations are equally well-researched and sometimes more sincere, as in the performance of Tye’s works by the Winchester Cathedral Choir (on Hyperion), or of White’s Lamentations by The Cardinall’s Musick (on ASV). In this celebration of vocal technique and sound engineering, the composers’ voices are drowned out by those of The Sixteen. Berta Joncus