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GRAMOPHONE (05/2020)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

When you think of Roman polyphony you think of balance, order, elegance. Not for Rome’s composers the rougher textures and bolder colours of their Venetian colleagues but cooler, more moderate shades. It’s music ideally suited to the poise and control of The Sixteen, whose latest disc, ‘The Call of Rome’, explores the power of restraint and understatement, finding emotional grit beneath the clean contrapuntal lines of works by Josquin, Victoria and their Roman contemporaries.

Few texts pack more grief, violence and despair into their lines than the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The power of Victoria’s settings (of which only the Responsories for Holy Saturday are recorded here) lies in the friction between the often brutal verses and the armslength clarity of the music. The Sixteen paint these miniatures with glossy, glassy purity, solo-voice verse sections zooming in just close enough to offer human disturbance to the smooth musical surface. Balm isn’t far away though – spread smooth and cool in the composer’s eight-part Salve regina.

The singers find more muscle for the Josquin, carving out the rhythms of his Gaude virgo mater Christi deeply, especially through the dancing Alleluia, and giving us an architectural account of the Pater noster/Ave Maria. It would be hard to find a greater contrast between these rooted verticals and the horizontal lightness the group generate for Anerio’s Regina caeli laetare.

Casting its inevitable shadow over any Roman programme is Allegri’s Miserere, included here in Ben Byram-Wigfield’s now-ubiquitous ‘evolution’ arrangement, recorded by the group in 2012 and already released as a digital single. It’s still a fascinating treatment but even more interesting is the Gloria from the composer’s Missa In lectulo meo – a graceful, tantalising hint of the ‘real’ Allegri, but sadly an isolated movement rather than the complete work.


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