Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nearly two-thirds of this program of music by Scottish composers was previously released by The Sixteen on the now-defunct Collins label. Robert Carver's "Credo" from the mass Dum sacrum mysterium and his setting of O bone Jesu, as well as two works by William Cornysh--Salve Regina and Ave Maria--appeared on several different discs, and they sound virtually the same in these reincarnations for the choir's own Coro label. The "draw" here is James MacMillan's O bone Jesu, which was commissioned by The Sixteen and, according to the composer, owes much of its inspiration to Carver's own substantial (19-part) and powerfully affecting version (heard in all its glory at this program's end).
MacMillan's scoring certainly pays tribute to his 16th-century counterpart, both harmonically and in terms of texture--but, rather than merely imitate, he builds a decidedly modern structure from these ancient foundations, with judiciously applied moments of biting dissonance, a series of downward glissando effects, and a climactic, multi-layered buildup near the work's end. And the ending has to be one of the more dramatic and surprising you'll ever hear. MacMillan also ingeniously handles the "problem" of the 20 repetitions of the word "Jesu", altering its context--textural and harmonic--each time, but not so we interpret it as a cheap gimmick. Unlike John Tavener, another modern composer who writes religious music, MacMillan achieves coherence and congruity by what sounds like an organic development of his ideas rather than offering up a vaguely-structured, meandering patchwork merely posing as a work of deep thought and insight. Another highlight is 17th-century composer Robert Ramsey's motet O vos omnes, one of the more emotionally gripping settings of this text, included along with three other heretofore unissued Ramsey works.
The Sixteen is in expectedly fine form throughout this program, giving its usual full measure of technical skill and interpretive flair and flourish to each piece. My only complaint is the bright edge to the sound, a feature of many of The Sixteen's recordings but one that doesn't always prove most flattering or complementary to the music at hand, particularly works with high treble parts. Nevertheless, this release is a must-have for Sixteen fans and for anyone interested in new choral music.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com