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Choirs of Angels - Music from the Eton Choirbook Vol 2

Browne / Choir Of Christ Church Cathedral
Release Date: 05/14/2013 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2184   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John BrowneWilliam CornyshRichard DavyWalter Lambe,   ... 
Conductor:  Stephen Darlington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Christ Church Cathedral Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHOIRS OF ANGELS: Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol. 2 Stephen Darlington, cond; Christ Church College Ch, Oxford AVIE 2184 (74:05 Text and Translation)

BROWNE O Maria salvatoris mater. CORNYSH Ave Maria, mater. DAVY Salve Jesu mater. LAMBE Read more class="ARIAL12bi">O Maria plena gracia. WYLKYNSON Salve regina

Back in 2009, J. F. Weber reviewed the first volume in this series ( Fanfare 33:2). Browne, Lambe, Davy, and Cornysh were also featured; only Fawkyner has been replace on this latest release by Wylkynson. More to the point, the approach taken with the music has not changed. I have nothing but praise for the Tallis Scholars in Browne’s eight-part O Maria salvatoris mater (Gimell 036), for example; and the relaxed pace that Peter Philips sets is very close to that heard on this disc. But the version by the Tallis Scholars does not utilize boys, as the original indicates. When you factor in that Darlington resolves on a performance pitched roughly a whole tone and a half lower, then the result is a very different sound, one that has both a deeper bass, and arguably higher (or at any rate, less resonant) top. This also plays into the way Browne pits the extremes against one another at times within the work, for his works display a great interest in the variety of textures achieved from different vocal combinations.

The music, of course, is splendid. Merely because, as Weber notes to the first volume, Browne’s Stabat Mater has been recorded more than any of his other works since “it is regarded as the finest piece in the book,” does not mean that the rest severely falls off. It is no exaggeration to say that the Eton Choirbook, despite its severe lacunae (roughly a third is lost or heavily fragmented), is an international musical treasure. Of the other works on this disc, Cornysh’s Ave Maria is the shortest in the collection, a delicate miniature. Davy, who served as instructor of the choristers at Magdalen College, Oxford, is represented by 10 works, though one is missing and another is heavily damaged. His Salve Jesu mater starts simply, appropriately for a meditation on the Virgin’s purity and chastity, before the highest and lowest voices suddenly join in to magnificent effect on “Te virtutes angelorum.” (“We believe that you excel/the virtues of the angels/and the movers of heaven.”) Lambe’s O Maria plena gracia is one of the few works that sets a text in prose—in this case, an Assumption vision. Half of it is actually missing from the Eton Choirbook, but fortunately the work survives complete in the Lambeth Choirbook. Finally, there’s Robert Wylkyson, who served, as Davy did, as an instructor of choristers, but at Eton from 1500 to 1515. This means he would have known the Choirbook when it was as yet new, and complete. His richly scored Salve regina is in nine parts, and seems at times to look ahead to the sonorous, very part-active Tudor motets of half a century later.

James A. Altena was disappointed with the ensemble’s work in 2012, in their Treasures of Christ Church album (Avie 2215), where he found the singing “surprisingly lackluster and inexpressive,” complained of aspiration, and the boy trebles and altos “at times shrill, hooty, or out of tune.” The good news is that none of this is apparent on this release, where they run true to form. Intonation is exact, enunciation clear, the tonal balance distinct between parts yet carefully blended. Phrasing is expressive. This is a worthy follow-up to More Divine Than Human (Avie 2167): fine performances in sacred music of remarkable eloquence.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

O Maria Salvatoris mater by John Browne
Conductor:  Stephen Darlington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Christ Church Cathedral Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 15th Century; England 
Venue:  Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, Englan 
Length: 15 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Ave Maria Mater Dei for 4 voices by William Cornysh
Conductor:  Stephen Darlington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Christ Church Cathedral Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Written: circa 1510; England 
Venue:  Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, Englan 
Length: 4 Minutes 7 Secs. 
Salve Jesu mater vera, for 5 voices by Richard Davy
Conductor:  Stephen Darlington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Christ Church Cathedral Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Venue:  Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, Englan 
Length: 16 Minutes 49 Secs. 
O Maria plena gracia, for 6 voices by Walter Lambe
Conductor:  Stephen Darlington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Christ Church Cathedral Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Venue:  Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, Englan 
Length: 20 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Salve Regina, for 9 voices by Robert Wylkynson
Conductor:  Stephen Darlington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Christ Church Cathedral Choir
Period: Renaissance 
Venue:  Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, Englan 
Length: 16 Minutes 22 Secs. 

Sound Samples

O Maria salvatoris mater a 8
Ave Maria mater Dei a 4
Salve Jesu mater vera a 5
O Maria plena gracia a 6
Salve regina a 9

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Absolutely sublime  October 2, 2014 By William A. (Roxbury, MA) See All My Reviews "The Fanfare review has it right, calling the Eton Choirbook an international treasure. The naive complexity of the polyphony here reminds one of how languages tend to get 'simpler' by some structural measures (e.g., reductions in declensions or case endings) over time; even Taverner, or later, Byrd, sound a bit spare after the sheer, epicycles-on-epicycles richness of these works when at their most florid, coming from the first gushing bloom of maturity of English polyphonic writing. One is hard-pressed to find performances with the forces for which this music was written and by which it was inspired – choirs of men and boy trebles. This music was composed not by 'professional composers' but men who were as steeped in the production of the music – as choristers themselves and often later masters thereof. The music can't be separated from the human and liturgical contexts of its origin, which makes these recordings, with authentic forces and direct institutional continuity over half a millennium, so thrillingly apt. But this is no dry, scholarly exercise; the stunning effect achieved here suggest that authentic serves the art. Christ Church is in top form. I sometimes wish there was a bit less treble -- the solo sections often seem to me better balanced. Overall, though, these are sublime, transporting performances that have the power to reduce this listener, at least, to chills and quivers." Report Abuse
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