Trinity has produced another impressive recital: the complete series of Brahms's motets. Singing of such quality and sensitivity brings life and lustre to a series that risked being overweight with erudition. Brahms had felt himself responsible for carrying into the nineteenth century an age-old choral tradition represented by such names as Schfitz, Gabrieli, Lotti and of course J. S. Bach, to whom he was particularly indebted. By making a conscious effort, he exploited the multiple possibilities of canonic writing, proving his mastery without relinquishing anything of his personal romantic genius. Despite such a traditional ancestry, the result is a surprisingly original repertoire, ranging from four-part chorale style writing to massiveRead more double-choir composition, but also including a few pearls for female voices only—a medium in which Brahms—and Trinity—excel. Indeed, I would like to single out, for their lightness and skill, the high voices of Trinity Choir, particularly when on their own, as in the Ave Maria, or the sprightly Regina coeli. By comparison, the sopranos and altos of the Chapelle Royale and the Collegium Vocale on Harrnonia Mundi tend to sound heavy and opaque. Herreweghe only includes motets for unaccompanied mixed voices, so one never actually hears his high voices alone.
The question of acoustics is crucial to both recordings: Trinity is greatly assisted by the admirable resonance of a chapel of classical proportions. The strong reverberation of Herreweghe's building creates problems for him, though it reinforces the powerful effect produced by the combined choirs, which seems especially appropriate in such works as Op. 109; elsewhere, with microphones too close for comfort, it obscures the part-writing. The singers try to overcome this by displaying tremendous energy (tenors and basses). Their constant use of detached marcato, or outright staccato, is, however, wearing on the ear. My personal preference is for the lucidity of the Trinity recording.