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GRAMOPHONE (12/2016)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 0093046765323


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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

Taking inspiration from the seasons of the Anglican year – Advent, Passiontide, Pentecost, Easter – Graham Ross and the mixed-voice Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, have put together a thoughtful series of recordings that keep one foot in traditional Oxbridge Renaissance repertoire while also moving that tradition determinedly forwards into the 21st century. Their latest disc – ‘Music for Epiphany’ – is no exception, offering a collision of new and old that coalesces into a seasonal collection that works just as well as a recital as it does a reference recording.

Epiphany is a tricky season musically, its best anthems often assimilated into Christmas services, leaving little to keep congregations going through January. Here Ross reclaims many of these ‘carols’, including Warlock’s contrasting Bethlehem Down and Benedicamus Domino, Howells’s Long, long ago, Judith Weir’s Illuminare, Jerusalem and Poulenc’s Videntes stellam. These come together with anthems by Byrd, Sheppard, Palestrina and Mouton to create an Epiphany that’s no pastel-coloured portrait of mother and child but something at once starker and brighter.

The performances of the Renaissance repertoire are characteristically strong, though Sheppard’s spacious Reges Tharsis lacks a certain ease and scope in its delivery, tending to the matter-of-fact; but it’s in the 20th-century works that Ross and his young singers come into their own. Fluid phrasing and expressive diction bring out the folk roots of the Howells and Warlock, while the exposed simplicity of I wonder as I wander and Berkeley’s I sing of a maiden is deftly handled, especially by the impeccably blended top line. Bax’s Mater ora filium makes a climactic closer, its episodic structure paced beautifully. Classic Epiphany hymns (most of them in sometimes unexpected arrangements by Ross himself) are a bonus, providing the supporting pillars for this wide-ranging collection.

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