XMAS V: A Classical Christmas...L'Arte Del Mondo, Phoenix Chorale, Clare College Choir, Capella Romana, The Sixteen
Tavener's shorter pieces are beautiful. "Birthday Sleep" based on a text by Vernon Watkins, is grand in an ancient style. Tavener soars here. The composer's setting for Yeat's "A Nativity" begins with a darkness that gives way to brightness as the piece unfolds. "O Thou Gentle Light" from the Orthodox liturgy, is the most consonant work and is stunning. Tavener remains, with Ex Maria Virgine the choral composer of note. It is encouraging to realize that music this fine continues to be composed.
Visit Clare College Choir Cambridge on the Web.
Kontakion on the Nativity and Carols by Richard Toensing
American Richard Toensing also composes in the Eastern Orthodox tradition in choral music. His lengthy piece, "Kontakion on the Nativity," is a lofty, challenging piece with many rewards but at the expense of the listener's undivided attention. The demand on the listener is not unlike that of John Tavener's Ex Maria Virgine reviewed above. However, the beauty in both composers' work is better illustrated in their smaller pieces. In the case of Toensing, his carols possess a charm so captivating one will find his or herself humming them long after the player is turned off.
Toensing's carols also possess a uniquely American sound, a Shaker cadence filtered through Charles Ives. There is a carefully crafted homespun sound to "Isaiah, As He Watched By Night" and "Make Glad, You Righteous." These carols are comfortable and broken in full of consonance and resolution. They carry such a potent essence of Americana that one can smell the turkey dressing listening to them. Toensing's music is a rare treat, even when challenging and more than worth the effort to become familiar with.
Visit Richard Toensing on the Web.
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
George Frideric Handel: Messiah - The Sixteen Edition
Coro Records was inaugurated in 2001 by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, providing the group with greater artistic freedom and opportunity to pursue a more challenging and broader repertoire without the commercial restraints of major labels. One of the results of these efforts is The Sixteen's second recording of Handel's Messiah. The group's first recording of Messiah was released on Hyperion in 1997. The recording was a superb period instrument, historically informed rendering. Light yet durable singing over the warmth of period instruments made the set very attractive.
Precious few musical director have the opportunity or talent to record Messiah, much less to have done it twice. Nikolas Harnoncourt and his Concentus Musicus Wien released their second Messiah (RCA, 2005) to mixed reviews in spite of the presence of the exquisite Christine Schafer. Will Harry Christophers' fare as well? The short answer is no, the Sixteen's recording is better than Harnoncourt's new one and, in fact bettered their previous 1997 recording by quite a bit. It has been enthusiastically received and will possibly replace several listener's favorite Messiah.
Christophers' soloists on this new recording are both well known to him and are Handel experts in their own right. They solo incandescently, elevating the performance to a level rarely achieved since barnburners like Sir John Eliot Gardiner's (Archiv, 1990) and Richard Wilcox's (Chandos, 1992). The tempo here is of interest as it is decidedly slower than recent period recordings and scholarship might indicate. This in no way detracts from this fine performance. Harry Christophers is a certifiable Handel nut and that is a most good thing.
This is the most satisfying Messiah since Paul McCreesh's with the Gabrieli Consort (Archiv, 1997). Some will consider it the finest. A more through review of other Messiah release is detailed in George Frideric Handel and His Messiah: The Perfect Holiday Collection
Visit The Sixteen on the Web.
Tracks and Personnel
Assisi Christmas Cantatas
Tracks: Benedetti: Cantata Morale per il Santissimo Natale Pastori o voi, Salve Regina; Corelli: Concerto grosso Op. 6 No. 8 in G minor 'fatto per la notte di Natale,' Finale: Oh quam jubilat, motetto per il Santissimo Natale; Lazzari: Sonata Pastorale; Motetto Canto Solo per Natale; Porpora: Stelle lucide; Zucari: Salve Regina.
Personnel: Ruth Ziesak: soprano; Reinhold Friedrich: trumpet; L'Arte Del Mondo, Werner Ehrhardt.
Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary
Tracks: Stephen Paulus (b. 1949): Splendid Jewel; Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): A Hymn to the Virgin; Cecilia McDowall (b. 1951): Three Latin Motets; Herbert Howells (1892-1983): A Spotless Rose; Javier Busto (b. 1949): Two Marian Pieces; Healey Willan (1880-1968): Three Liturgical Motets; Jean Belmont Ford (b. 1939): Electa.