Alto’s reissues often joltingly convey a sense of time passing. It
certainly came as a shock to me to realise that Richard Marlow and the Choir
of Trinity College Cambridge recorded this Victoria disc fully a quarter of
a century ago. It first appeared on Conifer, and at its new price bracket it
may well prove tempting to a new generation of purchasers.
The music for Easter Week was not presented here in an attempt to
reconstruct a liturgy, though there was an attempt to site the more familiar
Responsories in the context of the Lamentations. Thus the three Lamentations
(Lessons I, II and III) for the First Nocturn of each day are followed by
the three Responsories (IV, V, and VI) for each day’s Second Nocturn. It’s
helpful to read Bruno Turner’s excellent notes – himself a famous exponent
of this repertoire – to consider the approach adopted by Richard Marlow.
If this is the context in which you would like to hear the Easter Week
music you will find that these are generously warm performances. Within the
various English traditions of singing Victoria theirs are amongst the most
tonally expressive, matched by a disciplined approach throughout. The
Lamentations are richly moulded and such is the technical control of the
choir that they sound flowing, with a resonant amplitude. It’s true that
this tradition contrasts with the Spanish, which is more dramatic and indeed
incisive but even within English choirs there are significant differences.
Whilst Marlow directs with warmth, but not at the expense of line, the
Tallis Scholars, for instance, who perform the Responsories on CD GIM022,
offer an altogether cooler approach. David Hill and the Choir of Westminster
Cathedral on Hyperion CDA 66304 offer greater variegation of colour and
attack, preferring not the more richly blended tone of Cambridge but a
magnificent stratum of tone, conveyed at tempi that are less metrical in
places than Marlow’s. This is especially important when Hill proves to have
a more stately approach to tempi than Marlow. Admirers of English choirs are
fortunate indeed to have a choice between such revealing approaches; the
top-to-bottom variegation of Hill, the mid-range Marlow, and the
objectified, rather icy Tallis Scholars.
The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers on Collins 15182, offer a more
focused tone than Trinity College, less rich, and more explicit dynamics –
try Lectio I
of the First Nocturn, for instance, but also – often
surprisingly – rather slower tempi as well. Marlow is less
theatrical-dramatic in the whole of Lectio I-III
Christopher’s more powerfully sculpted and leisurely traversal.
Much depends on the context in which one wishes to listen to the familiar
Responsories, and indeed the Lamentations. In the context Marlow chose, the
music is finely contrasted and is conveyed with urgent warmth.