COMPOSERS: Bray and Williams,Byrd,De Monte,L’Estrange,Panufnik,Park,Pott
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Upheld by Stillness
WORKS: Renaissance gems and their reflections, Vol. 1: Byrd, De Monte, Panufnik, Pott, L’Estrange, Park, Bray and Williams
PERFORMER: ORA/Suzi Digby
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMW 906102
This is the first disc from ORA, a consort of 18 professional singers who, under the direction of Suzi Digby, have set out to commission new works to be performed in counterpoint to music from the golden age of sacred polyphony. It’s a noble ambition to build a library to complement the Tudor partbooks, and one that should benefit choirs throughout the UK and beyond. But on the basis of this recording, the consort has yet to locate a sound or style to distinguish it from the other groups in which its members sing.
Digby’s approach to Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices, Quomodo cantabimus and Ave verum corpus is as smooth as a mid-priced Merlot. There’s nothing wrong with Merlot, of course, and Harmonia Mundi’s production team has framed the warm clear glow of the voices in an attractive acoustic halo. There’s more dynamic variety but a similarly vanilla vibe to the new writing. Owain Park’s Upheld by Stillness contrasts sheer blocks of hummed and sung sound, with a lucid and rather lovely ‘Amen’. Charlotte Bray’s Agnus Dei is concise, clean and poised, the antithesis of Alexander L’Estrange’s tortured Show me, deare Christ, with its ugly crescendo on the final note. Scored for three choirs, Roderick Williams’s Ave verum corpus Re-imagined subtly alludes to Tavener and Messaien. Roxanna Panufnik’s Kyrie is a gentle watercolour wash of quotations, while Francis Pott’s Laudate Dominum, the motet most likely to be ordered by canny choirmasters, is bright-toned and robustly syncopated.