WORKS: Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen; Magnificat; …which was the son of…; Nunc Dimittis; The woman with the alabaster box; Tribute to Caesar; I am the true vine; Triodio
PERFORMER: Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
CATALOGUE NO: CDGIM 049
Stripping down the number of voices in Pärt has palpable benefits. Sixteen singers are used in the Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen, and in the quieter music in particular the devotional quality of the music is emphasised, the antiphonal staccato exchanges of ‘O König aller Völker’ more precisely targeted than they might be with a large conventional choir. Not that there’s any sense of power missing: in the tutti of the Magnificat, the crescendos are ringing, and again one notes how cleanly the passing of musical narrative from part to part is realised with fewer voices. That ability to be nimble matters in the tedious genealogy of …which was the son of…, a seven-minute joke which goes on six minutes too long. The Tallis Scholars almost make it funny.
The voices of the disciples in The woman with the alabaster box achieve special clarity and emphasis when their numbers are small, as here, and the four basses deserve special mention for the eloquent, moving unanimity of their voicing in Jesus’s response to the disciples’ admonition.
Only in the bass drone underpinning Triodion do you sense a need for the warmer, fuller sonorities a bigger body of singers might furnish. The central climax of ‘We do homage’ could also blossom more fully, though the fractured passing of text between sections at the movement’s conclusion has telling precision.
The recording has a slightly pinched quality, the acoustic of Merton College Chapel, Oxford reined in to emphasise the intimacy of these compelling if not quite definitive performances.