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The Road to Paradise
In Ora Mortis Nostrae
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-85)

Miserere nostri [3:24]
The Pilgrim’s Journey

Jacet granum – Clanat pastor [5:37]
Robert PARSONS (c.1535-1571/ 2)

Ave maria [5:01]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

A Hymn to the Virgin [3 :53]
Media Vita In Morte Sumus

William BYRD (c.1540-1623)

Christe qui lux es et dies [3:40]
John SHEPPARD (c.1515-1558)

Media vita in morte sumus [19:16]
Requiem Aeternam

Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936)

A Good-Night (1998) [2:33]
John TAVENER (b. 1944)

Song for Athene (1993) [6:28]

In pace in idipsum [4:27]
A Vision Of Paradise
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)

Nunc dimittis (1915) [3:12]
William H. HARRIS (1883-1973)

Bring us, O Lord God [4:15]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)

Take him, Earth, for cherishing (1963) [9:37]


In paradisum

Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh

rec. July 2006, The Parish Church of S. Alban the Martyr, Holborn, London.

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6605 [74:11]

Do you wish you could find more of that kind of recording which makes you feel as if you’ve died and gone to heaven? Well, with Paul McCreesh’s ‘Road to Paradise’ you’ve come to the right place.

This CD, with DG’s clean new house style and all embracing programme, has the look of something which might turn out to be a little on the artificial side – ‘product’, deliberately designed to be just different enough from the others to sell well, while fighting labels with a good reputation for this kind of music on their own ground. This may be true in part, and there is a certain suspension of disbelief when it comes to the ‘lucky dip’ nature of the track listing: but when you hear the Gabrieli Consort in the gorgeously resonant acoustic used here you almost immediately cease to care. Even in The Netherlands where they consider themselves world leaders, Paul McCreesh is recognised as one of the most significant artists in the current world of early music. He is known for his extensive study of seventeenth century music, and is a talented cellist as well as being the interpreter and conductor we recognise most today. McCreesh’s attitude to programming has been well tested in the field, and there are plenty of precedents which lead up to a CD of this nature. The John Sheppard Missa Cantate which re-creates an entire Christmas Mass, is just one case in point.

In this recording Paul McCreesh has organised the repertoire as a kind of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’: not in the sense that the pieces were associated with the great medieval pilgrim routes, but rather as a way of tracing a soul’s journey from life to death. ‘The Road to Paradise’ transports the listener through a landscape of English a capella singing, and the rich choral tradition which makes England stand out from the rest of Europe. The programme builds a bridge from thirteenth century chant, through the sixteenth to the twentieth century. After the tolling of a bell, Thomas Tallis’s Miserere nostri melts through your loudspeakers, and sets the mood for the entire album. The Tallis connects seamlessly with John Sheppard’s Media vita in morte sumus, described by Richard Morrison as ‘the ‘Götterdämmerung of the Tudor era’ and at nearly 20 minutes certainly a dramatic tour-de-force. Robert Parsons is a new name to me, a composer about whom little is known, other than that he died young, drowning in the river Trent. On of the highlights has to be Gustav Holst’s Nunc dimittis, sharing a style of visionary ecstasy with William H. Harris’s setting of John Donne, Bring us, Oh Lord God.  John Tavrner’s ethereal Song for Athene will always be associated with the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, and the final work, Herbert Howell’s Take him, Earth, for cherishing, written after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, is given as moving a performance as I can remember hearing.

This might all seem to be a recipe for misery, but the sense of restrained celebration is tangible, the joy in the voices, the music and the space in which it is being sung all contributing to a sense of hopeful eternity rather than earthly suffering. Monotony is swept aside in a variety of shifting perspectives, with parts of the choir appearing deep from within the church, others taking more soloistic moments at closer range – always in proportion and with a sense of appropriate scale, but teasing the ear and maintaining interest nonetheless. Yes, the individual works are subjected to a project in which the sum of their parts might be seen as being lesser than the whole, but take them out of context and I defy you to find a weak one among their number. With Paul McCreesh as a guide, the road to paradise is a very pleasant one indeed.

Dominy Clements



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