Notes and Editorial Reviews
Full of the high-quality music-making one expects from the Sixteen, this is a thematically-unified sampler of the modern English choral tradition at its best.
Devotion to the Virgin Mary has fuelled some of the very greatest art of the western world. This is true in architecture, poetry, the visual arts and, of course, in music. More than a few (to put it mildly) of the masterpieces of plainsong, of the Notre Dame school of composers, of Palestrina and Monteverdi, of Bach – and many more – were written in the service of such devotion. Think of all those thousands of settings of the Alma Redemptoris Mater, the Salve Regina, the Ave Maria, Ave Maris Stella, the Stabat Mater etc. etc.
Marian devotion is the
theme for this latest in the Sixteen’s admirable series of ‘popular’ anthologies – following on from best-selling discs such as Ikon (Universal 476 3160) and Renaissance: Music for Inner Peace (Universal 987 0128). In calling these discs ‘popular’ I intend only to distinguish them from the choir’s more scholarly (in terms of documentation, not attitude to performance) and specialised issues such as their 5 CDs of music from the Eton Choirbook (available as a box set, Coro COR16040) or CDs of music by Victoria (COR16007, 16021 and 16033) and, inter alia, Robert Carver (COR16051) and Britten (COR16006, 16034 and 16038). The musical standards so evident on discs such as these are matched on A Mother’s Love, even if the presentation is more popular.
One of the great virtues of the Sixteen is their accomplished versatility. Under the direction of Harry Christophers they really do seem to be able to do justice to pretty well every area of the choral repertoire. They can match the specialised Renaissance choirs in their territory – but also give outstanding performances of works and composers that most such choirs would probably hesitate to tackle.
So, in this present collection, we range from Plainsong to Duruflé, via Josquin des Prez and Palestrina, from anonymous music of the English middle ages to Margaret Rizza, via Greig, Liszt, Saint-Saens and Britten.
Margaret Rizza? She doesn’t seem to have made a previous appearance on MusicWeb. I have seen her name before and – I’m not sure why – I confess that I had assumed her music to be some sort of New Age vapidity. Hearing her Ave generosa, a setting of words by Hildgard of Bingen makes me ashamed of my ignorant prejudice. It is music of peace and spirituality, but of real substance and intelligence, subtle in its simplicity. Margaret Rizza certainly has a ‘proper’ musical background. As Margaret Lensky she was an opera singer who performed at La Scala and Glyndebourne; she worked with Benjamin Britten and Leonard Bernstein, and later taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She came to both composition and Christianity in her fifties and sixties, and her thought and her music (very much tied to the practice of prayer) have been much influenced by that remarkable Canadian Benedictine John Main (1926-1982). If all of Rizza’s music is as good as this piece it deserves serious attention.
Elsewhere we are largely in more familiar territory. With a programme so various, no one listener is likely to be equally enamoured of every piece. For myself, the sublimity of Palestrina’s Sicut illium inter spinas and Cornysh’s Ave Maria Mater Dei are more deeply satisfying than some of the nineteenth century pieces. Others may well feel differently, but it is hard to imagine that any lover of the sacred choral tradition will not find much to enjoy here. The sheer stylistic variety of the collection (though some interesting continuities do emerge) perhaps makes it not a CD which one will often want to play straight through, but it is surely one to which most listeners will return to hear specific pieces again. Both the perfection of the ensemble and the quality of soloists such as the tenor Mark Dobell and the sopranos Grace Davidson and Libby Crabtree make this a valuable and inspiring disc. Experienced collectors will have texts to hand for many of these pieces; it is a shame that, for the newcomer who might be attracted by such an album, none are provided.
-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Ave maris stella, EG 150 by Edvard Grieg
Written: 1899; Norway
Length: 3 Minutes 19 Secs.
Ave Maria, mater Dei by William Cornysh
Length: 3 Minutes 16 Secs.
Gaude virgo, mater Christi by Josquin Des Préz
Length: 2 Minutes 46 Secs.
Tota pulchra es, WAB 46 by Anton Bruckner
Written: 1878; Vienna, Austria
Length: 5 Minutes 31 Secs.
Hymn to the Virgin by Benjamin Britten
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1930/1934; England
Length: 3 Minutes 47 Secs.
Salve regina by Jacob Obrecht
Written: Netherlands (Holland
Length: 7 Minutes 58 Secs.
Ave generosa by Margaret Rizza
Length: 6 Minutes 16 Secs.
Ave maris stella, S 34 by Franz Liszt
Written: circa 1866/1868; Rome, Italy
Length: 5 Minutes 13 Secs.
Ave Maria, Op. 2 no 2 by Sir Edward Elgar
Written: 1887; England
Length: 2 Minutes 58 Secs.
Salve regina by Orlando de Lassus
Written: 16th Century
Length: 4 Minutes 8 Secs.
Cornysh: Ave Maria, Mater Dei
Josquin: Gaude Virgo Mater Christi
Britten: A Hymn To The Virgin
Anon (mediaeval): Alma Redemptoris Mater
Palestrina: Sicut Lilium Inter Spinas
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