Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Plunge to The Depths

The Road to Paradise
Gabrieli Consort / Paul McCreesh
Deutsche Grammophon, CD 477 6605
Music of
Britten · Byrd · William H. Harris · Holst · Howells · Robert Parsons · Richard Rodney Bennett · Sheppard · Tallis · John Tavener


I bought this back-to-back with the previously-reviewed Sixteen / Harry Christophers album, and as I listen from one to the other they almost seem at first like companion discs. Rather than concentrating specifically on virginal material, though, the unifying theme for the Gabrieli Consort CD is the trek made by medieval pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela (a subject also addressed in Joby Talbot's 2005 composition Path of Miracles). Conductor McCreesh has chosen pieces--again spanning several centuries--that express musically what religious pilgrims might have experienced during the perilous journey. Sonically, the two albums occupy some common real estate; both are fairly serious and somber and contemplative unaccompanied choral music (there is just a bit of organ on the Gabrieli Consort disc).

But that first impression of similarity does not hold up. There is a noticeable change of sonic setting moving from one disc to the other; that's one part of it. Paul McCreesh has chosen a much larger, more luxurious acoustic than that in which The Sixteen were recorded. But that acoustic plays a supporting role in what, after a couple listenings, comes across as a much more ambitious project. While we do have works of serenity and surpassing beauty such as Robert Parson's Ave Maria and Thomas Tallis's Miserere nostri, we encounter more depth and drama as we progress, in Benjamin Britten's treatment of the traditional A Hymn to The Virgin and John Tavener's Song for Athene and Gustav Holst's Nunc dimittis and others. It's all fairly buttoned-down, but the dynamics presented in this setting introduce us to deep waters.

The Gabrieli Consort was formed by Paul McCreesh in 1982 and, like The Sixteen, concentrate on mostly Baroque and Renaissance repertoire (though they are now venturing forward into the Classical). They were one of the first groups I encountered to concentrate on authentic period performance, and the value of the exercise is nowhere more evident than here. Intonation and blend are superb; no other word does the trick. Using between 8 and 32 singers on these various pieces, I cannot imagine getting more deeply into this music than these women and men have done here.

The Sixteen disc is excellent; but this offering from Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort is profound.

Highest recommendation.

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