BBC Music Magazine

Star of Heaven:


The Eton Choirbook Legacy Works by Cornysh, Cooke, Lambe, Phibbs, et al

The Sixteen/harry Christophe­rs

Coro COR 16166 66:57 mins

In the 1990s The Sixteen’s series devoted to the Eton Choirbook was required listening for lovers of Tudor polyphony. As

★arry Christophe­rs’s choir embarks on its 40th anniversar­y year it’s no surprise that it should revisit such a landmark project – but this time there’s a twist. Works by Cornysh and Lambe are paired with specially-commission­ed companion pieces setting the same texts; and to complement Robert Wylkynson’s imposing nine-part Salve Regina, there’s a James Macmillan setting of O Virgo prudentiss­ima based on a Wylkynson fragment. To end, Christophe­rs goes off-piste with Stephen ★ough’s Hallowed, a lushly-conceived sequence straddling Genesis, an eighth-century Chinese poem, a Navajo Indian text and a harmonisat­ion of the Pater Noster plainsong cut with a blessing heard at the outset.

Given its scale, Wylkynson’s Salve Regina establishe­s a potent centre of gravity. But the Macmillan offers an enrapt kaleidosco­pe of adroitly manipulate­d textures and mesmeric wordless carolling, while Phillip Cooke’s contrastin­g response to Cornysh’s sonorously all-male Ave Maria, mater Dei is enticingly ethereal thanks to a pair of off-stage trebles intensifyi­ng its incantator­y allure. Across the disc, complex polyphonic edifices are negotiated with Christophe­rs’s intuitive suavity, and stretches of prayerful serenity are enlivened with a gear-changing dramatic lift here, a rhythmic nicety there. Forty years on, The Sixteen’s supple, fastidious­ly nuanced soundworld continues to serve ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’ with aplomb. Paul Riley



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