Refuge From The Flames: Miserere and the Savonarola legacy

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Allegri,Bettini,Byrd,Clemens Non Papa,Esenvalds,Le Jeune,Macmillan,Richafort,Verdelot
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Refuge From The Flames: Miserere and the Savonarola legacy
WORKS: Works by Allegri, Bettini, Verdelot, Byrd, Esenvalds, Richafort, Le Jeune, Clemens non Papa, MacMillan et al
PERFORMER: ORA/Suzi Digby
CATALOGUE NO: HMW 906103

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If you know Allegri’s Miserere well, there are surprises awaiting you in this new recording. The edition used is Ben Bryam Wigfield’s, and it combines a partial reconstruction of the original Sistine Chapel version – plainer than what is normally recorded – with a couple of the familiar high C moments apparently created by a copyist’s error.

Scholarly considerations aside, this is a beautiful performance of Allegri’s masterpiece, with a strongly devotional atmosphere to it. Suzi Digby’s tempo gives the music space to resonate, the engineers find an evocatively distanced acoustic in which to set the solo quartet, and the ORA singers’ thoughtful, introspective phrasing distils a sense of spirituality difficult to communicate on record.

Another Miserere, James MacMillan’s, receives an equally sentient, immaculately balanced interpretation. Settings by Byrd and the Latvian composer Eriks Eenvalds of Infelix ego, a text by the 15th century Florentine friar Girolamo Savonarola, provide a further opportunity to compare Renaissance and contemporary approaches. Eenvalds’ halting, fragmented treatment of the central stanza is particularly effective, although the downward glissandos he requires of the singers in the outer sections lack a little in conviction.

Further Savonarola-related pieces by Jean Richafort, Claude Le Jeune and Clemens non Papa complete the programme. This is ORA’s second CD, and it confirms the 18-member ensemble as a formidable new presence in the choral marketplace.

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Terry Blain