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