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Barber: Agnus Dei / The Sixteen


Release Date: 04/19/2005 
Label:  Coro   Catalog #: 16031   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Samuel BarberIrving FineSteve ReichAaron Copland,   ... 
Performer:  Ruth DeanRoger CleverdonCaroline TrevorNicholas Robertson,   ... 
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Listeners who, like your writer, are inclined to associate The Sixteen largely with old European music should welcome this opportunity to sample their approach to the 20th-century American choral repertoire. What strikes me first and most forcefully in this recording is the intensely warm, characterful, human quality of the choral sound. In general, the ability to tailor sound to repertoire stands high on the list of cardinal choral virtues. Many choral ensembles achieve the requisite seamless blend by producing a rather neutral, quasi-instrumental sort of timbre; whereas The Sixteen’s approach on this disc leaves absolutely no room for doubt that we’re listening to human beings. Let me stress that I don’t necessarily favor one approach Read more over the other. The virtues of the former strategy are well demonstrated, for example, by the Neue Detmolder Liedertafel’s renditions of Schumann part-songs for male chorus, reviewed elsewhere—or, for that matter, by The Sixteen’s own recordings of Handel and Bach. But one should value consistency on this point, and The Sixteen are nothing if not consistent.

Conductor Harry Christophers notes that his approach to the programming of this collection is guided by “the same principle [as] with so much of my programme planning and that is, a blend of the familiar with the less familiar.” Still, listeners whose tastes stretch as far as, say, Vaughan Williams and Britten, shouldn’t find any of this repertoire excessively challenging. And there’s pleasure to be had in the way that the expanded harmonic resources of 20th-century choral technique enhance the composers’ responses to such affect-laden texts as Fine’s “Against Jealousy” and Barber’s “Anthony O’Daly.” (Reich’s Clapping Music is, perhaps needless to say, a special case, whose title provides all the commentary required.) Like at least half of the choral singers on the planet, I’m most familiar with the Barber pieces by virtue of having actually performed them. And given The Sixteen’s generally stellar reputation, I’m somewhat surprised to find that I do have some substantial quarrels with their interpretive approaches here. Both the “Agnus Dei” (transcribed from the famous Adagio for Strings) and “Anthony O’Daly” feature extended gradual crescendos that build to shattering climaxes toward the end; by my lights, both performances peak too soon, turning the dynamic pinnacles into plateaus. I can only speculate as to whether listeners who are on similarly intimate terms with the other works on the disc might find comparable grounds for complaint elsewhere.

Still and overall, the shortcomings of this compilation are minor and its virtues major; one notable highlight is Bernstein’s diminutive “Court Song” with enchanting solo work from soprano Nicola Jenkin and alto Nigel Short. Recommendable, then, minor reservations notwithstanding.

James Carson, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Agnus Dei, Op. 11 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Ruth Dean (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967; USA 
Venue:  Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, England 
Length: 8 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Notes: This work is a vocal arrangement of the composer's 'Adagio for Strings.' 
2.
The Hour Glass by Irving Fine
Performer:  Ruth Dean (Soprano), Roger Cleverdon (Bass), Caroline Trevor (Alto),
Nicholas Robertson (Tenor), Simon Birchall (Bass), Nicola Jenkin (Soprano),
Helen Templeton (Alto)
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USA 
Venue:  Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, England 
Length: 14 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Language: English 
3.
Clapping Music by Steve Reich
Performer:  Ben Hoffnung (Percussion), William Lockhart (Percussion)
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1972; United States 
Venue:  Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, England 
Length: 5 Minutes 31 Secs. 
4.
Motets (4) by Aaron Copland
Performer:  Nigel Short (Countertenor), Carys-Anne Lane (Soprano), Nicholas Robertson (Tenor),
Simon Birchall (Bass)
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921; Paris, France 
Venue:  Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, England 
Length: 10 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Language: English 
5.
Reincarnations, Op. 16 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; USA 
Venue:  Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, England 
Length: 8 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Language: English 
6.
Final Alice: Acrostic Songs by David Del Tredici
Performer:  Nicola-Jane Kemp (Soprano), Sarah Leonard (Soprano), Fiona Clarke (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 
Venue:  Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, England 
Length: 5 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Language: English 
7.
The Lark: Choruses by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Nigel Short (Countertenor), William Lockhart (Bells), Ben Hoffnung (Drum),
Nicola Jenkin (Soprano), Ben Hoffnung (Bells)
Conductor:  Harry Christophers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Sixteen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; USA 
Venue:  Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, England 
Length: 10 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Notes: This selection is sung in French, Greek and Latin. 

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