McCreesh is known for his “concept albums”,
recordings that recreate centuries-old
masses and liturgies, featuring works
by famous composers interspersed with
authentic chants and other sound elements.
In this new disc, he takes a different
tack: he leads the listener on a “medieval
pilgrimage” to paradise through a selection
of choral works dating from the 16th
century to the present, together with
some Gregorian chants. From Tallis,
Byrd and Sheppard to contemporary composers,
such as Tavener, Britten and Howells,
this disc presents a journey to paradise
The pieces on this
recording are very personal choices, and the order in which
they are performed is loosely organized in several sections:
a journey, life and death, a requiem and “A Vision of Paradise”.
The heart of the disc is the 19-minute Media Vita in Morte
Sumus by John Sheppard, a slow work that develops in lush
sounds and drama, one that rivals the finest masses of Byrd
and Tallis. Other works include Britten’s brief Hymn to the
Virgin, Taverner’s Song for Athene, written for the
funeral of Princess Diana, and Holst’s Nunc dimittis.
While the segues from one work to another do not always seem
ideal, the juxtapositions are interesting, and the overall feeling
when listening to this recording is one of peace and tranquillity.
While it is being marketed as a disc of “commercial, lifestyle-oriented
appeal”, those who are familiar with McCreesh, the punctiliousness
of his musicology, and the qualities of his choir, will not
be surprised that there are no rough edges in this recording.
That makes this sound, at times, a bit too perfect, too “produced”,
but there is no lack of quality, either in the singing or in
the acoustics of the church where this music was recorded. This
is a disc to listen to on headphones, to appreciate the excellent
acoustics and recording, as well as the textures and balance
of the Gabrieli Consort.
Note that I received
a promotional copy of this recording which contains only cursory
notes, and would have appreciated reading more about why McCreesh
chose the specific tracks, whether it was for their sound, their
words or both.
see also Review
by Dominy Clements RECORDING
OF THE MONTH in July