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John TAVENER (b. 1944)
Song for Athene (1993) [6:11]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Ex ore innocentium [4:05]
The Lamb* (1982) [3:51]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Hymn to the Cherubim [4:39]
Count Alexander SHEREMETIEV (1859-1931)
Now ye heavenly powers [3:42]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Hymn to St. Cecilia* (1942) [10:59]
Pavel LUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
Ave Maria [3:57]

Antonio LOTTI (1667-1740)
8-part Crucifixus [3:39]
Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582-1652)
Miserere [11:59]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Esti Dal** [3:08]
Traditional (arr. Nigel SHORT)
The Dying Soldier [4:34]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Psalm 148, Lord who hast made us for Thine own [4:53]
William Henry HARRIS (1883-1973)
Faire is the Heaven [5:23]
Tenebrae/Nigel Short
Jeremy Filsell (organ)
rec. St. Jude’s on the Hill, Hampstead, London, 5, 7 January 2006; *St. Michael’s, Highgate, London, 17 May 2004; **All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, 8 July 2005 DDD

In the booklet note this collection is described as “a divergent and diverting aggregate of creeds, songs and prayers”. I must say I’m not completely sure that it all holds together as a programme, though there’s a great deal to enjoy and admire in terms both of the music and the exceptionally high standards of performance – as I’ve come to expect from Nigel Short and his fine choir.
For me the pieces that really don’t work here are those by Lotti and Allegri. For all that both are splendidly sung neither really sits comfortably in what is otherwise a programme of twentieth-century music. I would willingly have foregone Allegri’s tediously repetitive piece in exchange for another more modern work.
But that’s really the only quibble I have about this programme. I was delighted to find John Ireland’s fresh and gently ecstatic Passiontide motet had been included. The ladies of Tenebrae sing it with a marvellous sense of open-eyed wonder. The two Russian items are also most successful although I did wonder why the Rachmaninov piece was sung in English. It’s given a beautiful performance even if these English singers lack the sheer amplitude of sound that a Slavic choir would have at its disposal. The offering by Sheremetiev was completely new to me – indeed, I can’t recall hearing any music by this composer before. Now ye heavenly powers, which is sung in Russian, is for male voices. It’s described in the notes as “quietly powerful” and that’s a very apt description. The music is mainly subdued in tone and the piece has a grave beauty that’s most attractive. Even more affecting is the other Eastern European piece, Kodály’s Esti Dal. This setting of a Northern Hungarian song is a little gem. It is sung in the original language and features a lovely soprano solo, one of several solos during the course of the programme, all of which are taken excellently from within the choir’s ranks.
Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia is a terrifically inventive piece of music in which the composer shows real flair in his writing for unaccompanied choir, even if Auden’s text seems rather high-flown in its imagery and somewhat verbose. Tenebrae not only rise to its manifold challenges but also surmount them with ease. They are excellent too in Holst’s splendid setting of Psalm 148, receiving marvellous support from Jeremy Filsell at the organ.
But in many ways the best is saved for last. Sir William Harris’s sumptuous setting for double choir of words by Edmund Spenser is, for me, one of the glories of English church music. It moves from the rarefied celestial atmosphere of the quiet opening to the blazing conviction and excitement of the passage at “And those eternall burning Seraphims” – Tenebrae are marvellous here – before the pacific mood returns at the close. The performance of this miniature masterpiece is thrilling in every respect. Indeed, I feel that here Nigel Short and his singers come close to realising the “endlesse perfectnesse” of which Spenser speaks.
This is an outstanding disc, which I have enjoyed greatly. The sheer quality of singing has always impressed me on the previous discs I’ve heard from this choir and, indeed, when I’ve heard them live. This new release is as good as any I’ve heard from them. The engineering is excellent and the disc comes with a good booklet including full texts. Another winner from Tenebrae!
John Quinn 



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