ALBUM TITLE: Collection: in Excelsis
PERFORMER: Choir of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-44657-2
Most if not all the repertoire on In Excelsis is already available on disc. The artists are familiar ones. The point must therefore lie in the theme: Taverner and Tavener, icons of pre-Reformation and post-modern English choral music. They’re linked through kinship of spirit and ritual and proposed as such in this thoughtfully structured anthology of old and new, recorded in the clear and unchurchy acoustic of Merton College.
As revealing of jewel-like detail in Giles Swayne’s Magnificat as in Cornysh’s modern-sounding ‘Woefully arrayed’, the ultra-refined and sensuously balanced timbre of these stunning all-male voices certainly inspires the ear to seek parallels, whether in like patterns of mass and line in Tavener’s ‘God is with us’ and Tallis’s ‘Audivi vocem de caelo’, or in the chant-based forms of Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Come, Holy Ghost’ and Taverner’s Western Wynde Mass. Then there is the heritage of psalms, as in Harvey’s ‘I love the Lord’, and beyond that, the overarching verities of Mary and the Trinity.
So, there is a common voice. But whether, on this evidence, a truly shared language may be discerned, given the gulf of sensibility between those who composed five centuries ago, and believed, and we who listen now, remains an open question. Nicholas Williams