COMPOSERS: Howells,L Berkeley,Leighton,Macmillan,Merrill,Parry,Stanford,Tavener,TH Jones,WH Harris
ALBUM TITLE: A Voice from Heaven
WORKS: Choral works by WH Harris, MacMillan, Howells, Tavener, Stanford, Howells, Leighton, Parry, L Berkeley, Murrill & TH Jones
PERFORMER: Choir of The King’s Consort/Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: VIVAT 113
Compare and contrast: that’s one of the themes of this new King’s Consort disc, where five pairs of composers setting the same text are lined up alongside one another for aural inspection. The results can be strikingly different. Half a century separates William H Harris’s setting of the John Donne prayer Bring us, O Lord God from James MacMillan’s, and it shows. The lush, undulating eight-part textures of Harris bespeak a comfortable spiritual assurance, while MacMillan’s response is fierier, with darker, at times unsettling harmonic shadings. Both pieces receive exceptionally assured, nuanced interpretations from the singers.
The distinctions between Stanford’s I heard a voice from heaven and that of Herbert Howells are more subtle, though Howells, like MacMillan, is harmonically less predictable. Fine solo contributions, from soprano Julie Cooper in particular, grace both performances.
Among the other selections, Kenneth Leighton’s Drop, drop, slow tears, its dissonances expertly sifted and savoured, is particularly memorable, as is the implacably poised, pregnant traversal of John Tavener’s Song for Athene, where Robert King’s unusual placement of the basses stage centre and in front of the sopranos gives extra presence to the drone underpinning the upper voices.