Purcell: Funeral Sentences (first set)

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COMPOSERS: Purcell & Macmillan
LABELS: Coro
WORKS: Purcell Funeral Sentences (first set); Let mine eyes run down with tears; O dive custos; Jehova quam multi sunt hostes mei; Beati omnes qui timent Dominum etc & Macmillan: O bone Jesu; Sedebit Dominus Rex; A Child’s Prayer; Mitte Manum tuam
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16069

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Purcell’s funeral and penitential liturgical settings contain some of the most heart-rending music in the choral repertory. When sung with the kind of controlled immediacy displayed here (in this live recording with adult voices) the effect is a long way from the polished marble beauty of the typical Anglican cathedral choir.

Purcell’s harmonic daring can startling – there are passages in Jehova quam multi and Remember not Lord which are as adventurous as anything in Gesualdo. But in the end what makes these pieces powerful out of all proportion to their length is Purcell’s magnificent sense of line. Everything is so contained and so finely shaped.

So how does James MacMillan fare in such exalted company? It may seem surprising to find MacMillan’s tribute to his 16th century fellow-Scot O bone Jesu here, and not alongside Carver’s own work (as The Sixteen did in the MacMillan’s premiere recording, COR 16010).

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But it holds up well, building to a glowing ending which, like all the MacMillan pieces on this disc, shows how deeply this composer understands the expressive and acoustic possibilities of the a cappella choir. Best of all though is the exquisite miniature A Child’s Prayer. The means are simple, the effect anything but. Excellent performances, sensitively recorded. Stephen Johnson