XL – Choral Works for 40 Voices = TALLIS: Spem in alium; PITTS: XL; PURCELL-SANDSTROM: Hear my prayer; BACH: Contrapunctus 1; HARVEY: Come, Holy Ghost; NYSTEDT: Immortal Bach; KODALY: Laudes Organi – Rundfunk Choir, Berlin/ Simon Halsey – HM

by | Sep 20, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

XL – Choral Works for 40 Voices = TALLIS: Spem in alium; PITTS:
XL; PURCELL-SANDSTROM: Hear my prayer, O Lord; BACH: Contrapunctus 1
from The Art of Fugue; HARVEY: Come, Holy Ghost; NYSTEDT: Immortal
Bach; KODALY: Laudes Organi – Rundfunk Choir, Berlin/Dir. by 
Simon Halsey – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMC 801873, 79:33 *****:

One of the more difficult large performing groups to record properly is
a choir. But an excellent recording of a good choir can be a most
welcome experience. In the right space a choir recorded in surround
sound can be an even more involving sonic experience. That is part of
the reason for this disc, and the others are to display the tremendous
ensemble skills of this choir, and to present examples of five
centuries of choral polyphony.  All these reasons are successfully
realized. The English cathedral tradition is followed in the placement
of the choir, which results in a far more involving listening
situation. The five microphones were placed in the center area, facing
out towards the choir. The altos and basses are in a row at the left
and right surrounds and the sopranos and tenors are in a row at the
front left and right speakers.

The opening is Tallis’ best-known motet, which happens to be originally
for 40 voices, bringing them in one per bar until all are heard by bar
40. Antony Pitts’ XL, after which the disc is named, is also for 40
voices and also uses part of Psalm 40 as text. His tribute to Tallis is
in three parts and Pitts moves the voices thru the choir in the
opposite direction from what was heard in the Tallis motet. In the
Purcell work, Ligeti pupil Sandstrom borrows one of the themes and in
the second part of the work builds a new section out of it. This is one
of three tracks on the disc accompanied by pipe organ; all the rest are
a cappella.

The first of the two Art of Fugue excerpts is Bach’s original for solo
pipe organ; then we hear a realization of that theme for mixed choir by
Schnebel. The next tracks is similar, presenting first the well-known
Gregorian chant Veni Creator Spiritus, quoted by Mahler in the first
movement of his Eighth Symphony, followed by Jonathan Harvey’s Come,
Holy Ghost, which takes the chant thru several variations, including
atonal improvisation. Nystedt’s tribute to Bach takes the short chorale
Come Sweet Death and overlaps it in different sections of the choir in
a circle plus moving it around spatially among them. The result is
strangely avant, yet at the same time familiar. I was reminded of one
of Ligeti’s choral works used in the film 2001. The closing work by
Zoltan Kodaly, who wrote numerous choral pieces, was his final
composition at age 83. It emulates a Renaissance style of polyphony and
uses for text a 12th century Swiss manuscript devoted to praise of the
pipe organ. This disc is a superb demonstration of a large choir in
surround sound, with more variety than my previous demo SACD in this
area – DMP’s Gaudeamus.

– John Sunier

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