SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

TALBOT: Path of Miracles – Tenebrae/ Nigel Short – Signum Classics

A promising work from a promising source that just falls short

Published on November 15, 2006

TALBOT: Path of Miracles – Tenebrae/ Nigel Short – Signum Classics
TALBOT: Path of Miracles – Tenebrae/ Nigel Short – Signum Classics Multichannel SACD SIGCD078, 62:26 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:Joby Talbot is a young composer (35) who studied at the Guildhall School, has been quite successful in writing for a variety of mediums, including several noted film scores and a host of chamber and orchestral works. He is also one of those composers with one foot in the pop/rock world, and has done work for television also. Path of Miracles is the result of an idea presented to him by Nigel Short involving the medieval pilgrimage–traceable to the mid-1200’s–along the route to Santiago de Compostella where the relics of the Apostle James reside.

The fours stops along the route, and the names of each of the four movements, are the abbey and cathedral towns of Roncesvalles, Burgos, Leon, and Santiago. With a libretto by Robert Dickinson, the piece is almost like a choral tone poem with words. The work has quotations from the Codex Calixtinus and other medieval texts interspersed with the Roman liturgy and the poetry of Mr. Dickinson. There is an unusual technique from Taiwan called the ‘Pasiputput’ where “low voices rise in volume and pitch over an extended period, creating random overtones as the voices move into different pitches at fluctuating rates.” It is quite effective and even thrilling the few times it is used.

The use of small bells and cymbals adds a lovely quality to the choral work. Indeed, the choral writing is exceedingly well done, imaginative, original, and highly evocative of the texts it is attempting to illuminate. Talbot does a superb job of setting the various languages, and though he is not always concerned with the normal stresses and fluxes of conversational speech, making the words serve the musical purposes, the clarity and concise rendering of the text makes for an unusually illuminating listening experience.

If I have any qualms about the piece itself, it would be the length. Too often meditative, sometimes static music can find itself earthbound instead of reflecting the otherworldly, mystical quality that the words and mood of the texts suggest. Path of Miracles is not immune to such criticism, and I think some judicious pruning would have equally benefited the whole. Nevertheless, Talbot has created an imaginative and ruminative work that has moments of great beauty, and certainly is a step above some of the now-autopilot musings of someone like John Tavener.

The recording has superb four-channel surround sound in an ambient acoustic that is faithfully captured by the Signum engineers’ Super Audio equipment. This is a composer to keep your eye out for, and a brilliant introduction to the way hi-fi choral singing should be captured. Nigel Short’s wonderful Tenebrae have the measure of the work down pat.

— Steven Ritter

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