are an all-male vocal ensemble, formed in 1992 from former members
of St. Thomas’s Boy’s Choir. The group consists of a core of
five singers (two tenors, one baritone and two basses) to which
two extra performers are added for various tracks on this disc.
the upper voices in the group are billed as tenors, at least
one of the tenors can double as a counter-tenor. On some of
the tracks one of the singers floats easily to a high D (just
over an octave above middle C).
group has a healthy performance schedule and an interesting
catalogue of CDs. This disc, which was issued in 2001, was actually
recorded in 1997/98, so inevitably any comments on the group’s
performances on the disc must reflect on the performers of ten
years ago rather than their modern selves.
recital is ambitious both in the range of music covered, musical
styles and languages sung. That they bring it off is a testament
to the group’s musicality even if there are some slips along
open the recital with a suave performance of Tallis’s If
ye love me. This piece displays some of the group’s musical
strengths, their fine sense of line, well focused sound and
good blend. Their sound
may well be agreeably blended but it is definitely not bland;
they have a very up-front, forward sort of sound, which can
be quite edgy. This is particularly conditioned by the sound
of the two tenors Wolfram Lattke and Dietrich Barth, neither
of whom has an exactly easy voice. But that said, I rather like
the sound the group makes and found it very expressive.
they fall down in the Tallis is in the language as their English
is just a little too accented for Tallis’s pure voiced lines
and they are unable to make as much of the words as they need
group seem to be on more comfortable ground with Poulenc’s Quatre
petite prières de Saint François d’Assise. They sound convincingly
French both in terms of the language and the sound-world that
the music inhabits. These charming little pieces were written
for the choir of the Franciscan monastery of Champfleury at
the behest of his great nephew, Jérome who was a Franciscan
monk. Though the pieces were written for a full choir, they
come over well in the performances by the vocal ensemble.
Mauersberger was a name that was new to me. He was a German
composer who worked almost exclusively in sacred music, much
of it for his own church. His setting Herr, lehre doch mich
is expressive and wears its modernism lightly. The issue of
language again raises its head as I felt that even in their
native tongue, the group could have made more of the words.
next piece lurches back 400 years as they perform Josquin’s
double motet Magnus es tu, Domine / Tu pauperum refugium.
Here, the limitations of their distinctive musical style become
apparent as they seem to carry the sound-world of the more modern
works into Josquin’s world. Nevertheless the performances are
expressive and musical.
Milhaud’s Psaume 121 the sound quality and music are
once more in harmony. Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus has the
same virtues as the group’s Tallis performance, but here they
are more relaxed as they are singing in Latin rather than uncomfortable
Orff’s Sunt lacrimae rerum we hear echoes of plainchant
and earlier music within the context of Orff’s own sound-world.
These pieces use the same construction techniques as are familiar
from Carmina Burana and this means that, attractive though
they are, the pieces are hard work for the singers. Here I felt
that a larger group of singers could have been helpful. In other
pieces on the disc, the reduction of the number of performers
was helpful in bringing a tightness and responsiveness to the
expressiveness of the singing. But here, I thought that sheer
weight of numbers would help the repetitions of Orff’s musical
language. The singers were not helped by their reticence with
the text, they could do with spitting out the consonants far
follow this with Pierre de La Rue’s lovely O salutaris hostia
and the group seem at home in this different, more relaxed context.
Peter Cornelius’s Ach, wie nichtig, ach, wie flüchtig,
the group’s sound is unsuited to this most Romantic of late-Romantic
music. The chromatic harmony of Cornelius’s idiom cries out
for the warmth of a full-voiced chamber choir rather than the
austerity of a few men’s voices. But given these restraints,
the group gives a most musical performance.
Tallis, this time Hear the voice and prayer. This has
all the virtues of the first track on the disc and my comments
about the English are the same.
complete the recital with a contemporary piece, by Marcus Ludwig
a young German composer based in Leipzig. Tenebrae is
a setting of a Paul Celan poem. Ludwig wears his modernism lightly
and the piece is written aptly for the ensemble, using contemporary
idioms for expressive means but never stretching the singers
beyond where they might reasonably want to go.
is an ambitious recital and by and large it succeeds. It does
so because, in all the pieces on the disc the group displays
a fine musicality which compensates for whatever small faults
that might be found.
programme is well chosen, mixing the familiar and unfamiliar.
So if you would like to hear some fine singing in a remarkable
range of pieces, then do try this disc.