Eternal Light

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
1. O Euchari in leta via [1:40]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739)
2. Eternal Source of Light Divine -
Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne [3:50]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
3. Nulla in Mundo Pax Sincera [5:54]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739)
4. Ombra mai fu [2:52]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
5. Et Jesum [2:12]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
6. Bist Du Bei Mir, BWV508 [2:51]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
7. Dell'aura al sussurar [2:09]
(Arrangement by Christopher Charles Hazel)
Thomas ARNE (1710-1778)
8. Where the bee sucks [2:10]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739)
9. Where'er You Walk [5:07]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
10. Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben [5:18]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739)
11. Lascia ch'io pianga [5:15]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739)
12. Let the bright seraphim
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
13. Flow My Tears [4:16]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
14. When I Am laid In earth (Dido's Lament) [4:42]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
15. Weepe you no more sad fountains [4:10]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
16. Pur ti miro [4:50]
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano)
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor) (track 16)
Age of Enlightenment Orchestra/Harry Christophers
rec. No date given. St. Paul’s Church, Deptford, London, England
Full texts and English translation included
UNIVERSAL UCJ 4765970 [63:31]
Byd Y Soprano - Soprano World
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
1. Dell'aura Al Sussurrar [2:22]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
2. Je Veux Vivre Dans Le Rève [3:39]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
3. Sous Le Dôme Épais [4:22]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
4. Du Ring An Meinem Finger [2:54]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
5. Morgen [4:44]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
6. La Ci Darem La Mano [3:20]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
7. Nun Blut Die Flur Das Frisch Grun [5:06]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
8. An Die Musik [2:43]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
9. Ave Maria [2:16]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
10. Mein Herr Marquis [2:43]
Dilys ELWYN-EDWARDS (1918-2012)
11. Y Gylfinir (The Curlew) [2:13]
Morfydd LLWYN OWEN (1891-1918)
12. Gweddi Pechadur (The Sinner’s Prayer) [6:04]
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano)
Charlotte Mobbs (soprano) (tr. 3); Robert Davies (baritone) (tr. 6); The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (trs. 1 and 6); City of London Sinfonia/Stuart Stratford (trs. 2, 3 and 10); Ensemble Bro Morgannwg/John Hugh Thomas (tr. 7); Christopher Glynn (piano) (trs. 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12); Alistair Ross (organ) (tr. 1)
rec. March 2009 Henry Wood hall, London, England (all tr. s except tr. 7); September 2008 St. Mary’s Church, Swansea, Wales (tr. 7);
Only texts provided for trs. 11-12 (English translations)
SAIN SCD2651 [44:59]
Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas is often seen on our television screens singing on programmes such as the BBC’s Songs of Praise. I saw Thomas in performance a few years ago as a member of The Sixteen singing early sacred music in the setting of Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria and I still have fond memories of her soaring soprano.
The Welsh soprano won a choral scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge where she read Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. Thomas joined the Monteverdi Choir in 2000 and has sung with The Sixteen, Polyphony, Cambridge Singers and the Gabrieli Consort. Increasingly she is in great demand as an international soloist.
Thomas has specialised in performing early music especially with the choral group The Sixteen. Her release titled Eternal Light on Universal covers music from the Renaissance and the Baroque period. The release titled Byd Y Soprano - Soprano World comprises mainly music from the Romantic period with some Classical and a Baroque piece. Late-Romantic music is not repertoire that one usually associates with Thomas in solo performance. It is not surprising that this highly talented singer will want to show her versatility by singing a wide range of repertoire. This stance will naturally invite comparisons with the finest singers in world. 

I cannot think of a finer exponent of early music around today than Thomas. Her soprano voice has an exceptional purity, with a silky smooth tone and light creamy fluidity. The voice isn’t heavy but neither is it over-bright and piercing. When listening to The Sixteen I was easily able to distinguish her voice owing to its clarity and carry yet I wouldn’t describe it as being over-distinctive.
On the disc Eternal Light Thomas’s performance was a revelation, revealing a glorious voice of elevated quality which wonderfully suited to Renaissance and Baroque music. I believe it to be superior to Emma Kirkby in her prime. Of the sixteen well chosen tracks not one disappoints. In addition there are two ‘killer’ tracks that are so exceptional, containing a special element of spirituality that one rarely encounters. Those ‘killer’ tracks are Eternal Source of Light Divine and When I am laid in earth (Dido's Lament) from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. Eternal Light is worth obtaining for those two tracks alone. I have played selections from this release at several Recorded Music Societies and Thomas’s performances have drawn considerable attention. Stunningly recorded at St. Paul’s Church, Deptford, London the release includes a splendid booklet containing full texts and English translations as necessary.
The release entitled Byd Y Soprano - Soprano World is a very different kettle of fish. Here the repertoire is mainly Late-Romantic with some Classical. This just doesn’t suit her voice in the same way as early music. Clearly there is more than one way of interpreting a song and Thomas sings all her selections extremely well. In particular I must say how much I enjoyed her interpretation of Richard Strauss’s masterworkMorgen (Morning). But in this repertoire the weight and amplitude of the voice, its richness and depth of emotional expression is just not able to compete with the world’s greatest lyric interpreters. In the Gounod and Delibes songs the intensely fierce competition includes such distinguished performers as Angela Gheorghiu, Anna Netrebko, Natalie Dessay, Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas. In Schubert and Richard Strauss, Thomas traverses the same Lieder territory as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Jessye Norman, Cheryl Studer, Lucia Popp and Renée Fleming. Also included on Soprano World are two attractive Welsh songs Y Gylfinir (The Curlew) by Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Gweddi Pechadur (The Sinner’s Prayer) by Morfydd Llwyn Owen. All but one of the songs were recorded in the Henry Wood Hall, London and although acceptable I didn’t enjoy the sound quality anywhere near as much as Eternal Light. Thomas is principally accompanied by pianist Christopher Glynn, three songs are with the City of London Sinfonia, two songs with The Sixteen and one with Ensemble Bro Morgannwg. In Sous le dôme épais (Flower Duet) from Delibes’ Lakmé Thomas is partnered with soprano Charlotte Mobbs and in the duet La Ci Darem La Mano  from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni she is joined by her husband the baritone Robert Davies.
I’m sure Thomas admirers will want to purchase both releases. The real treasure is the magnificently performed and recorded disc Eternal Light which I have been playing over and over again.  

Michael Cookson

I cannot think of a finer exponent of early music around today than Thomas.