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CLASSICAL  January 2009

CLASSICAL January 2009

Subject:

The Sixteen - Renaissance

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 2 Jan 2009 14:34:02 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (69 lines)

The Sixteen
Renaissance
Music for Inner Peace

* Works by Allegri, Barber, Lotti, Tavener, Monteverdi,
Palestrina, Tallis, Gorecki, Bruckner, Tomkins, Byrd,
Tallis, Byrd, Josquin, Poulenc, and Sheppard

The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Decca B000453102 Total Time: 77.58

Summary for the Busy Executive: Some of the music too big for the sound.

This mostly-compilation of tracks from earlier albums results in an
uneven program by a world-class group.  Harry Christophers's Sixteen
stands as one of the premiere vocal ensembles.  They don't shy from
difficult repertoire.  Indeed, Christophers seems to have created the
group for just such scores.  I wish I liked the disc more.

In a collection like this - a grab-bag of composers - it's almost
inevitable that you'd like some items better than others.  The Allegri
Miserere has never been one of my favorites.  In fact, even with the
soprano's famous high C, it bores me into coma.  Barber's arrangement
of his famous Adagio for Strings, the choral Agnus Dei, always struck
me as one of his worse ideas.  I like the Adagio fine.  It doesn't seem
to me to translate very well to choir.  Barber's original choral music
shows far more interesting part-writing.  Gorecki's Totus tuus goes on
far longer than its slight material can sustain, even though Christophers
runs it at a decent clip.

Sometimes a track doesn't work because the music needs more sound
than sixteen voices can provide: Allegri's Miserere, Barber's Agnus
Dei (again), Lotti's Crucifixus a 8, for example.  The best recording
of the Barber is a tossup between the Dale Warland Singers and Accentus.
I lean toward the latter, because their sound is so rich.  The Sixteen's
virtue has always included a lean, clear tone which, in this case, sounds
a little skimpy.

On the other hand, one particular track succeeds beautifully,
even though seeing it in the program may provoke an
Oh-no-they're-not-going-to-try-that-are-they.  The Tudor composer
John Sheppard is noted for his massive choral textures.  In Libera nos,
however, we get a mere seven parts (2 sopranos, 2 second sopranos, 2
altos, basses) and no tenors.  What might sound crowded at the upper
end comes across crystal-clear.

The rest suits the group beautifully.  Highlights include the Sheppard,
of course, Monteverdi's Christe, adoramus te, Bruckner's Locus iste,
normally done with large choirs, is so beautifully written that a smaller
group can make a lovely effect, although different.  Here, the Sixteen
emphasize the steely logic of the voice-leading and harmonic progressions.
Poulenc's Salve regina, from the Forties, is a paradox: essentially a
long melodic line that proceeds in short bursts.  The harmonies, though
beautiful, always threaten to fall apart.  I sense the group hanging on
by its fingernails, but so does every other chorus I've heard.  The
Sixteen stay just on the right side of in tune.

One little puzzle: the track labeled as the Poulenc also contains
another piece obviously not by Poulenc.  It sounds to me like Monteverdi
or Giovanni Gabrieli.  I think the first word is "Exsulte." Anybody have
an idea?

Steve Schwartz

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