The Sixteen perform Rubbra’s Tenebrae Nocturns, Missa Cantuariensis and Motets, Opp. 37 & 76

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Tenebrae Nocturns; Missa Cantuariensis; Motets, Opp. 37 & 76
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

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Rubbra’s choral music doesn’t loudly invite you in; you have to want to go there. As such, it poses difficulties for performers attempting to capture the listener’s attention, without artificially pumping up these spiritually inward-looking, deliberately unshowy pieces. In these consummate performances by The Sixteen, those difficulties dissolve away to nothing. 

The tricky low-lying part-writing at the start of ‘Tristis est anima mea’, the first Tenebrae Nocturn, is expertly poised and grounded, allowing the soprano line to levitate, vibrato-free, above it. There is a spirit, second of the Op. 76 Motets, pulses with a gentle sensuality; Harry Christophers balances the soaring soprano solo of Julie Cooper caressingly against the ensemble singers, in a performance which achieves ecstasy without any element of overstatement. The strange, unanchored harmonies of the Robert Herrick setting Eternitie are charted with probing exactitude by the singers, and Christophers’s shaping of the shifting dynamics is revealingly subtle.

The clamorous Gloria of the Missa Cantuariensis is a rare moment of untrammelled extroversion, and The Sixteen dispatch it fervently. This is a disc which anybody remotely interested in Rubbra will want to purchase.

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Terry Blain