> An Eternal Harmony The Sixteen [GH] : Classical Reviews- Dec 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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An Eternal Harmony
PLAINSONG ‘Dum sacrum mysterium;
Robert CARVER (c.1487-1566) Credo from the Mass "Dum sacrum mysterium" and ‘O bone Jesu’
James MACMILLAN (b.1959) O bone Jesu;
Robert RAMSEY (d.1644) When David heard; In monte Olivetti; O vos omnes; How are the mighty fallen;
William CORNYSH the elder (d.1502) Salve Regina and Ave Maria Mater Dei
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Recorded at different venues listed below.
CORO 16010 [67.29]
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The Robert Carver extracts come from the Sixteen’s recording of his music which came out in 1997 and which was, I presume, a studio recording. The Cornysh pieces come from earlier discs of music from ‘The Eton Choir Book’ recorded in 1991 and 1992 at St. Bartholomews, Orford in Suffolk (if I remember correctly). These were originally on the Collins Classics label. The Macmillan and the motets by Ramsey have been recorded very recently on 4 July 2002 in fact at St.Michael’s church in Highgate. The whole lot assembled for immediate release has been done most successfully probably in an attempt to make James Macmillan’s new work quickly available soon after its first performance over Easter this year.

It is an excellent idea to put alongside Macmillan’s beautiful, deeply spiritual, setting Carver’s extraordinary 19-part setting, particularly as this is such a fine performance. The stratospheric top parts need control and a sure technique, which these sopranos have. It is rather a pity that such a dry and unhelpful acoustic was chosen for its recording. If you want a more atmospheric acoustic for this masterpiece then you should obtain the Capella Nova/Alan Tavener CD (on ASV Gaudeamus GAU 124) recorded in the fine historic church of St.Michael Linlithgow to the west of Edinburgh. Sadly, however, the singing is simply not a match for the Sixteen, the sopranos sounding quite stressed at times. The same criticism applies to the Mass movement by Carver also recorded by Capella Nova.

William Cornysh senior wrote church music whilst it seems his son wrote the secular music we associate with the Henrican Court of the years after 1520. The father was a great composer I believe. Listen no further than these two works to be convinced. How wonderful to hear the ‘Ave Maria Mater Dei’ given space and a glorious acoustic, something which the Cardinall’s Music on their disc of Cornysh’s Church Music (ASV Gaudeamus 164) should learn from. Their performance is one minute quicker than the Sixteen’s. The Cardinall’s Music offer a fine recording of the ‘Salve Regina’ also recorded here. This is glorious music.

Although I have been involved with church music for over forty years I have never sung any music by Robert Ramsey, (which like the Macmillan has been especially recorded for this CD), a Cambridge based musician who may have studied in Italy. I say ‘may have’ because his rather dramatic Latin Holy Week settings seem to be thus influenced. In fact Gesualdo was almost brought to mind. I am reminded of the little known Walter Porter (1587-1659) who had been a pupil of Monteverdi c.1616 and was at that time probably based in Cambridge. Ramsey’s English settings are sometimes termed ‘motet-madrigals’ and are more in the tradition of Weelkes and Tomkins; indeed the text ‘When David heard’ was set, equally wonderfully, by both of those composers.

It is the James Macmillan which is the outstanding work even in this illustrious context. I firmly believe that as a church music composer, when he has spiritual words to excite him, he is far more committed and inspired than when he writes for the orchestra, especially the recent works. Think, for example, of the moving ‘Cantos Sagrados’ (1989) and of the more recent ‘Magnificat’. ‘O bone Jesu’ is outstanding and so ‘caps off’ to what is an outstanding new release.

Gary Higginson

See also concert review by Martin Anderson


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Dum sacrum mysterium

Credo from Mass 'Dum sacrum mysterium'

O bone Jesu

When David heard
In monte Oliveti
O vos omnes
How are the mighty fall'n

Salve Regina
Ave Maria Mater Dei

O bone Jesu a 19

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