Gorgeous sound from the singers makes this Bruckner immensely satisfying
Hyperion long ago paid signal service to Bruckner’s mature settings of the Mass with recordings by Matthew Best’s Corydon Singers of all three. Interestingly, their 1985 recording of the E minor Mass (9/86R) has just been re-reissued on the budget Helios label, providing pretty powerful opposition to any new release, let alone one at full price. But while the Corydons were the choir par excellence on Hyperion in the 1980s and ’90s, the torch has been passed to Polyphony, whose sound is, if anything, even more smoothly rounded, more fully blended and more sumptuous. In StephenRead more Layton, too, they have a director who is every bit as openly communicative, and while I still feel Best reveals the soul of Bruckner’s sacred utterings more intensely, Layton (who also uses the 1882 version), produces such gorgeous sound from his singers that the overall listening experience is infinitely satisfying.
There’s no doubt that the latest Hyperion recording, made in Ely Cathedral, has more presence and atmosphere than that made over 20 years earlier in St Alban’s Church, Holborn. That certainly helps produce an ideal balance between wind ensemble and singers, the delicate woodwind flutterings of the Benedictus providing a delicious undercurrent to the broad, spacious choral lines. The rare moments of climax are nicely restrained and never impinge on the overall calmness of Bruckner’s setting.
Splendid as the performance of the Mass is, for my moneythe seven unaccompanied motets which surround it onthis disc are absolute gems. An ethereal account of Ave Maria has a breadth and grandeur which belies its short time-span; as the vocal lines crowd in on each other, the effect is nothing short of electrifying. And popular as it is, if there is to be a “definitive” interpretation on disc of Locus iste, this has to be it. Put simply, we’re unlikely to hear choral singing as fine as this for a good few years to come.