Short/Mcdonald

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Short/Mcdonald
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: The Dream of Herod
PERFORMER: Tenebrae/Nigel Short
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 046 (available from tenebrae@claymore.ch)
Nigel Short, formerly a countertenor with the King’s Singers, now lives in Switzerland and has as a neighbour the Formula 1 driver Jacques Villeneuve, whom he has persuaded to be a patron of his new choral group Tenebrae, along with James Bowman and Lady Solti. (Let’s hope that a precedent has been set.) The choir of 20 mixed voices is rather more than well-drilled: more polished choral singing would be hard to find anywhere.

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This first recording is nevertheless slightly disappointing. It consists of two discs, contained in a beautiful (but slightly carelessly edited) booklet bound in rich purple cloth covers. One disc is a standard audio CD on which Tenebrae performs a more or less predictable sequence of Christmas carols – the sort we hear year in, year out in any case. The second disc is a short DVD, which presents a work of ritual drama, with music by Short himself and words by another neighbour, Richard McDonald. Its premise is simple: it’s about King Herod wrestling with his conscience and finding redemption and release (and Christ) only in death. The music is straightforward, responsive to the text and fluently composed in a conservative language. Good, but nothing very special, in other words. The choir and cast of six principals, clad in plain cassocks, act the words largely through facial expressions. But much of the visual pleasure stems from the location for the performance, the beautiful church of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London. Lighting and camerawork are both excellent. Now how about something more adventurous for the group’s next release? Stephen Pettitt