Performance ***** Sound *****
"The strength of Tenebrae, their brand, if you like, is the breadth of range from almost kitschy murmuring to the full-throated beltissimo. The former brings welcome intimacy to the Britten Hymn to St Cecilia, while the latter powerfully propels Holst’s Psalm 148 to its conclusion, albeit in youthful, fresh-sounding style. The disc ends with that locus classicus of English choral singing, Faire is the Heaven, in which one would be forgiven for thinking Spenser’s final words,’such endlesse perfectnesse’ refer to the choir themselves rather than the state of Heaven. Some successful spatial effects in the engineering, and overall nicely captured."
BBC Music Magazine
"Despite the title, there’s a distinctly eastern-European tinge to this selection of mostly unaccompanied choral pieces. John Tavener’s affinity with eastern Orthadox chant is evident in his Song for Athene; Rachmaninov’s Hymn to the Cherubim is followed by Count Alexander Sheremetiev’s Now ye heavenly powers for men’s voices, sung in Russian. The eastern Roman Catholic tradition is represented by Kodály’s arrangement of a folksong and a sentimental Ave Maria from Pawel Lukaszewski. If the women’s voices sound too grown-up for John Ireland’s Ex ore innocentium, the fleetness of the second poem in Britten’s Hymn to St Cecillia is a delight, and WH Harris’s Faire is the heaven sublime."
Classic FM Magazine - December 2006
"From choral ’hits’ to the less well known, Tenebrae are on top form."
"Once again, Tenebrae and their director, Nigel Short, have put together a programme that ranges from the Renaissance to the 21st century, from the neglected to the familiar, with no sense of strain. Some of the familiar pieces are, perhaps, rather too familiar. I wish I had a million dollars for every recording of the two Tavener pieces in my collection, let alone every time I’ve heard them sung. They are radiantly beautiful and emotionally affecting, but perhaps their space would have been better given over to something less often performed. Moreover, while Tenebrae’s readings are typically impeccable, displaying fastidious craftsmanship, there are other versions (St John’s College Choir, Cambridge, for example on Naxos, 1/01) that are warmer, more transcendental.
Tenebrae’s special merits, their exceptional diction and sharp focus, are better suited elsewhere, not least on the two Russian liturgical pieces and Britten and Auden’s Cecilian homage, which reminds us how the composer brought out the best in the poet. The singing here is particularly crisp and agile.
The most recent composition is Lukaszewski’s Ave Maria, a more-than-worthy addition to the considerable list of settings of this prayer. The earliest is Allegri’s Miserere. The celebrated solo part with its top C is here entrusted to Grace Davidson (placed rather far back in the reverberant middle-distance) who sings well enough to disarm purists preferring the part to be taken by a treble.
Other highlights in this interesting recital are the pieces by Lotti, Kodály and Harris, and Nigel Short’s setting of the popular tune widely known as Barbara Allen."
Gramophone - November 2006
"This disc is a must for all connoisseurs of the finest unaccompanied choral singing. From the very first bars of John Tavener’s Song for Athene, the opening work in a pleasingly eclectic programme, Tenebrae reveals itself as one of those exceptional choirs whose individual singers have been moulded into a single superbly sensitive and responsive musical instrument. The mood of each piece is captured to perfection, from Tavener’s almost hypnotic transcendence to the passionate grief of Antonio Lotti’s eight-part Crucifixus, whose agonised chromatic harmonies pack a terrific punch; or from the intensely moving and dignified simplicity of Alexander Sheremetev’s Now ye Heavenly Powers (from the Russian Orthodox liturgy) to the exuberantly pealing halleluiahs of Holst’s joyously inventive setting of Psalm 148. The soprano soloists in Allegri’s Miserere have a combined purity and richness of sound, giving the celebrated ornaments a jewel-like brilliance. Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia enables the choir to display its virtuoso control of rapid dynamic and textural changes. This is an outstanding performance, which reflects every expressive nuance in both poem and music."
The Daily Telegraph - October 2006
"I really think we’re in a choral golden age at the moment. I was inspired by Tenebrae when I heard them in a concert at St. Jude’s in Hampstead and just had to get their new ’Allegri Miserere’ CD. It’s beautifully sung, a wonderful disc that has introduced me to some pieces that I didn’t know."
BBC Music Magazine - December 2006
"I was delighted to find John Ireland’s fresh and gently ecstatic Passiontide motet had been included. The ladies of Tenebrae sing it with a marvellous sense of open-eyed wonder. The two Russian items are also most successful although I did wonder why the Rachmaninov piece was sung in English. It’s given a beautiful performance even if these English singers lack the sheer amplitude of sound that a Slavic choir would have at its disposal. The offering by Sheremetiev was completely new to me - indeed, I can’t recall hearing any music by this composer before. Now ye heavenly powers, which is sung in Russian, is for male voices. It’s described in the notes as "quietly powerful" and that’s a very apt description. The music is mainly subdued in tone and the piece has a grave beauty that’s most attractive. Even more affecting is the other Eastern European piece, Kodály’s Esti Dal. This setting of a Northern Hungarian song is a little gem. It is sung in the original language and features a lovely soprano solo, one of several solos during the course of the programme, all of which are taken excellently from within the choir’s ranks.
Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia is a terrifically inventive piece of music in which the composer shows real flair in his writing for unaccompanied choir, even if Auden’s text seems rather high-flown in its imagery and somewhat verbose. Tenebrae not only rise to its manifold challenges but also surmount them with ease. They are excellent too in Holst’s splendid setting of Psalm 148, receiving marvellous support from Jeremy Filsell at the organ.
But in many ways the best is saved for last. Sir William Harris’s sumptuous setting for double choir of words by Edmund Spenser is, for me, one of the glories of English church music. It moves from the rarefied celestial atmosphere of the quiet opening to the blazing conviction and excitement of the passage at "And those eternall burning Seraphims" - Tenebrae are marvellous here - before the pacific mood returns at the close. The performance of this miniature masterpiece is thrilling in every respect. Indeed, I feel that here Nigel Short and his singers come close to realising the "endlesse perfectnesse" of which Spenser speaks.
This is an outstanding disc, which I have enjoyed greatly. The sheer quality of singing has always impressed me on the previous discs I’ve heard from this choir and, indeed, when I’ve heard them live. This new release is as good as any I’ve heard from them. The engineering is excellent and the disc comes with a good booklet including full texts. Another winner from Tenebrae!"
MusicWebInternational - December 2006
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