Harry Christophers has crafted this superb programme around four settings of King David’s lament for his slain son When David heard and describes it as “a best of poetry in music” – a big call, bearing in mind it is mostly sacred.
William Harris’s Faire is the Heaven and Bring us, O Lord God are sumptuous double-choir anthems full of delicious added-note harmonies and make a glittering wrapping for the delights within. James MacMillan’s The Gallant Weaver is a modern miniature masterpiece of accessible appeal with its gentle hints of Scottish folksong; such a clever piece of vocal writing – its decaying repetitions at different speeds evoke the stacked digital delay effects of modern-day electronic techniques.
A surprising rarity is Ivor Gurney’s Since I Believe in God the Father Almighty, an anthem for double choir that is a deeply moving prayer from a troubled soul; Gurney’s experiences at the Western Front haunted him and despite a brief flourish of creative activity after the War he spent the rest of his days institutionalised where he wrote this work. The austere lines set against rich harmonies with surprising side-steps of tonality betray a fragile bipolar state of mind. Sample the line “And the Heav’nly purpose eternal” at 2’41” to hear the miracles of tuning and blend that this crack team can achieve.
It is unnecessary to say that the familiar centrepieces, Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia and Howell’s Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing, receive performances that set new benchmarks. Tippet’s twee faux-Elizabethan tracery won me over thanks to the glorious sounds hanging in the air and Rubbra’s honest sincerity avoids mawkish sentimentality; There is a Spirit is especially moving thanks to a lovely pure and chaste solo from Julie Cooper. The Sixteen’s exquisite silvery sound is conveyed by a splendid recording with limpid transparency and a lovely decay that doesn’t cloud detail. An early contender for Choral Disc of the Year.