Cantoribus is a group of singers founded by Timothy Hamilton. I
don't know how fluid is the membership but on this recording we hear
a group comprising 4 sopranos, 5 mezzos, 4 tenors and 6 basses.
Hamilton's musical background began as a cathedral chorister but
more recently he has been involved in opera and relishing the way
that - to paraphrase his booklet notes - opera unleashes the
physical and emotional power of the human voice. This led him to
found Cantoribus. All the members of the group are opera singers who
are also involved in the London "church circuit". As Cantoribus
their aim is to bring to the choral repertoire the vocal amplitude
that is second nature to them when singing on the operatic stage.
As will be seen from the track-listing most of the pieces have been
written by Hamilton himself - I don't know if they were penned
specifically for performance by Cantoribus. His pieces are
accessible and communicative. However, whilst the desire to showcase
his music is entirely understandable I regret that Stanford's
gorgeous Beati quorum via
is the sole representative of the
English Choral Tradition on this disc. I would have welcomed the
opportunity to hear more of the standard choral repertoire performed
by this group and since the playing time of the disc is pretty
parsimonious there would have been plenty of room for some more
As befits their operatic pedigrees the members of Cantoribus produce a
very rich, full sound. Hamilton's music gives the singers many
opportunities to sing out and, no doubt encouraged by their
conductor, they do just that on several occasions though there is
sensitive singing to admire also. The group is far from reticent in
the use of vibrato but the balance of the ensemble is good.
The open-throated style is immediately apparent in the first piece,
and it's especially noticeable how urgent is
Hamilton's music for the words 'Te deprecamur, Deus noster' ('We
beseech You, our God') towards the end. These words aren't uttered
as a humble prayer but, rather, as an impassioned supplication
though the music then subsides to achieve a subdued conclusion. It's
Equally urgent at times is Hamilton's setting of Ave verum
He doesn't adopt the reverential, subdued approach that one has
heard from several other composers. Instead we have a full-on
expression of praise - a style which is fully vindicated by the
words. Notice how full-throated is the tenor line at 'Cujus latus
perforatum', followed by an outpouring of generous soprano tone. It
may not be what one is used to hearing in a setting of Ave verum
but it's a completely valid approach.
I must admit that not all the music seems to work as well though
not share my view. In remembrance
is a setting of words by
Hamilton himself in honour of those who have fallen in war. This is
one of two pieces on the disc to feature a guest soloist, the
prominent young operatic soprano, Elisabeth Meister. The trouble is
that the choral textures behind the soprano solo are very busy, or
at least they are when sung in the very full, vibrato-rich
Cantoribus style, which increases the prominence of those textures.
Furthermore the forthright tone of the music seems rather at odds
with the sentiment of the words, though the more restrained ending
is good. While I'm in curmudgeonly mood I suppose I should say that
the other piece which really doesn't work for me is Hamilton's
arrangement of Oh holy Night.
He describes his arrangement
as "epic". It's written for eight-part choir and solo soprano - Miss
Meister again. I'm afraid that the part-writing seems vastly
overdone and Adam's melody is almost completely overwhelmed, despite
the best efforts of the soloist.
On the other hand the very dramatic setting of Crucifixus
the music - and the performers - making very effective use of
dynamic contrasts. There's some very powerful singing here and it's
fully justified. Also successful is The evening hymn
lucis ante terminum'). Given Hamilton's penchant for the dramatic in
music I wondered if this setting might be similar to the grandeur of
Balfour Gardiner's superb work but instead the response to the words
is mostly restrained and thoughtful in tone. It's a good piece.
There's quite a lot of rich harmonic texture in Timothy Hamilton's
music on this disc but he adopts a simpler style for the closing
piece, Star of Bethlehem
. As its title suggests it's a
Christmas piece, setting his own words. The music is appealing and
tranquil and I could easily see this being a 'hit' with other
Stanford's jewel of a piece is included, we are told in the notes, as
'an affectionate 'nod' back to a wonderful era in choral music'.
This performance, which is technically excellent, is very different
from the sound we are accustomed to hearing from British choirs that
are either an active part of the English Choral Tradition or whose
members were reared in that tradition. It's more full-toned and
vibrato-rich. Initially it's a bit of a shock to the system for
someone who, like me, is so accustomed to hearing what I might term
'traditional' cathedral-style performances but I'd urge people to
listen to this with open ears; I found it very interesting. As I
said earlier, I wish Timothy Hamilton had included more items such
as this in his programme. While I was listening to Crucifixus
I found myself wondering what a Cantoribus performance of one or two
Bruckner motets would sound like - Christus factus est
springs to mind. Equally, I'd like to hear what they'd make of
Brahms' Warum ist das Licht gegeben?
something for another time?
I suppose that what Timothy Hamilton and his singers are doing here is
giving us a reminder of the Italianate style of singing church
music. That is a style to which many English listeners may be
unaccustomed but it's an important part of the European choral
The sound on this disc is good. The group has been recorded in what
the session photos in the booklet suggest is a relatively small room
in the Royal College of Music. That has the benefit of imparting
clarity but I wonder if the slightly more resonant acoustic of a
church would have brought even more pleasing results.
Cantoribus offers a novel approach to small ensemble singing but,
despite the ungenerous playing time of this disc, it's one that is
worthwhile to experience.