What happens when three very different contemporary composers set the same texts from two of the Catholic Church’s most controversial saints? A striking musical chiaroscuro born in part out of the agony and the ecstasy of profound spiritual experience.
Following on from their disc Padre Pio: Prayer, which contains works by James MacMillan, Roxanna Panufnik and Will Todd (commissioned by The Genesis Foundation), The Sixteen perform settings of texts by St Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) and St John of the Cross (1542-1591) by contemporary British composers Tarik O’Regan, Roderick Williams and Ruth Byrchmore.
Each composer has set the same two texts: St Teresa’s prayer Nada te turbe (“Let Nothing Trouble You”) and St John’s poem En una noche oscura (“In a Dark Night”). All six works were again commissioned by The Genesis Foundation, a UK-based charity dedicated to helping emerging artists. The other works on the disc were the result of commissions from other organisations.
It’s no surprise that St John’s more sensual poem should elicit more passionate, if not fraught, responses from O’Regan, Byrchmore and Williams – a gifted baritone, who has recorded extensively for Naxos.
But St Teresa was and is (in) famous for having experienced episodes of religious ecstasy and the idea in her prayer of “having” God introduces sufficient emotional dissonance to inspire not only all three composers but The Sixteen, who under the sensitive direction of Harry Christophers seem alert to every expressive possibility while maintaining clear diction and a warm, glowing sound throughout this marvellous disc.