Tony Way


June 2, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Finzi & Bax & Ireland: Choral music (The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell)

Way back last century (in 1986 to be precise) the choir of King’s College, Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury produced a recording of choral pieces by Bax and Finzi. At a time when fascination with ‘early music’ was at its height, this rather unfashionable choice of repertory was a revelation; its expansive text-setting and lush harmonies were a reminder of a then rather neglected corner of choral music, full of guilty but well-wrought pleasures. Some 30 years on, choirs are thankfully less narrow in their choices. James O’Donnell and his Westminster Abbey forces have delivered a more than worthy successor to that disc. O’Donnell lavishes much care on Finzi’s masterly anthem, Lo the Full, Final Sacrifice; its long, contrasting paragraphs full of beautiful singing, whether the exultant “Lo, the bread of life” or the meditative “soft, self-wounding Pelican” or the beguiling Amen. Careful attention to text mirrors Finzi’s own care in this regard. God is Gone Up is dispatched with appropriate élan and the Magnificat radiates unalloyed joy. Three smaller Finzi anthems confirm his appeal. Bax is represented by contrasting carols, I Sing of a Maiden and This Worldes Joie – the first carefree and the second careworn. Given the considerable…

May 5, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: A Voice From Heaven (Choir of The King’s Consort/Robert King)

Here is a disc with the air of luxury about it. To start, what a luxury to hear the voices of Robert King’s Consort by themselves. As part of a vocal and instrumental mix, they are never less than alluring, but there is something particularly luxurious about hearing them a cappella for an entire disc. The choice of programme is also generous and first-rate: we are presented with British works from this century and last, chosen around a broad theme of remembrance, and for the most part in pairs, sharing the same or similar texts. This allows listeners to enjoy familiar favourites as well as ‘classics in waiting’. Amongst the well-known are William Harris’s setting of Bring us, O Lord God and Herbert Howells’ Take Him, Earth for Cherishing. Apart from their crystalline clarity and their impeccable ensemble, the singers deliver superbly expressive singing that takes these already famous pieces to a new level. The same artistry is also at the service of accomplished, more recent settings of these same texts. James MacMillan’s Bring Us, O Lord God brings an edgier but no less ecstatic feel to the text, while John Tavener’s Take Him, Earth for Cherishing uses only the…

May 5, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart: Mass in C Minor, K427 (Bach Collegium Japan/Suzuki)

Masaaki Suzuki has done a great deal for the cause of Bach over many years, but his way with Mozart is no less persuasive. Not only does he imbue the “great” but unfinished C Minor Mass with equal measures of grandeur, exuberance and other-worldliness, but he is one of those rare conductors (Boulez was another) who can impart to the listener great textural clarity plus an unclouded sense of the musical architecture. From the opening, rather old-fashioned Kyrie, Suzuki carefully paces the unfolding drama, allowing each part to play its role. The opening chorus of the Gloria (with its none-too-subtle references to Handel’s greatest hit) is joyfully dispatched, as are the succeeding solo opportunities. Sopranos Carolyn Sampson and Olivia Vermuelen are well matched in the Domine Deus; both having an excellent sense of phrasing. Sampson negotiates the justly famous Et Incarantus Est of the Credo with grace and ease. Suzuki’s careful attention to detail ensures beautifully shaped singing and playing throughout and a clear sense of how each part contributes to the whole. This is particularly true of the majestic brass in the Sanctus and the vocal intricacies at the end of the Gloria. To finish on a lighter note,…

April 26, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Mendelssohn: Elias (Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble/Hengelbrock)

The Old Testament’s “ripping yarn” about the prophet, Elijah was perfectly suited to the oratorio form in more ways than one. Apart from teeming with dramatic situations that begged for large and colourful musical treatment, the prophet’s vanquishing of the forces of evil and his subsequent glorification (being taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, no less) were perfectly attuned to prevailing Protestant sensibilities of the Victorian middle classes who enthusiastically hailed Mendelssohn’s work a masterpiece. While Thomas Hengelbrock’s version is not on the same scale as Paul McCreesh’s monumental 2012 account, it does benefit from the excellent singing and playing of the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble. In particular, the choir sings with unfailingly incisive rhythm and excellent German diction. Amongst the soloists the undoubted star is the young Hungarian bass, Michael Nagy, whose accomplished portrayal of Elijah balances the requisite qualities of patriarchal strength and human vulnerability. Some may find Hengelbrock’s tempos a touch fast and a little unyielding at cadences and other points of harmonic interest. Both the heroic story and its musical realisation suggest the need for some flexibility. There is a sense that this version has sacrificed a little of the work’s grandeur and pathos on the altar…

March 22, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Tallis: Spem in alium (The Cardinal’s Musick/Andrew Carwood)

Spem in alium is undoubtedly one of the great masterpieces of English polyphony; in a sense the last great flowering of a magnificent tradition. Like any great masterpiece, Tallis’s astounding 40-part motet can be admired from any number of different vantage points.   In this final volume of their Tallis survey, Carwood and The Cardinall’s Musick give us two versions – the original setting with its Latin text as well its contemporaneous adaptation to an English text. Both cast different lights on the music. Pleading and sorrowful, the Latin words create a sombre mood while the English text has a more jubilant effect. Choosing to record the work in a relatively dry acoustic also emphasises the composer’s extraordinary skill in manipulating such heroic forces and also the singers’ wonderful precision and unanimity of tone. The rest reminds us of Tallis’s uncanny ability to bend to the musical and religious dictates of his age, thus ensuring his head remained attached to his shoulders. Amongst deservedly popular works in Latin and English we have O Sacrum Convivium, Hear the Voice and Prayer and Verily, Verily, I Say Unto You. At the simpler end of the scale some early English liturgical works are…

March 22, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Salve Regina (Vocalakademie and Bassano Ensemble Berlin/Markowitsch)

Born in Venice about 1670 and dying in Vienna in 1736, Antonio Caldara not only had the good fortune to span different geographical musical centres, but also changes in musical style and taste. This programme of his music mainly devoted to the Virgin demonstrates some of these changes. The Venetian polychoral school is admirably represented by the double-choir Magnificat which opens (and also receives its first recording). A 16-part setting of the Crucifixus has more of a dramatic, high baroque sensibility akin to that of Caldara’s almost exact contemporary, Antonio Lotti. Making their first appearance in the catalogue, two charming concerted works, Ave Maris Stella and Salve Regina demonstrate Caldara’s skill in handling solo voices and smaller forces. Australian-born tenor Robert Macfarlane sings with admirable grace and clarity in the latter while soprano Nathalie Seelig and alto Franziska Markowitsch make a well matched pair in the former. String and continuo accompaniments are both sympathetic and engaging. The major work is an extended setting of the Stabat Mater. With baroque techniques like descending chromatic bass lines and stark dissonances, Caldara paints a colourful picture of the sorrowing Mary at the foot of the cross. The music is well served by the…

February 23, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Pierre de la Rue (The Brabant Ensemble/Rice)

Measuring fame is always a difficult proposition. Pierre de la Rue (c. 1452-1518) died a wealthy man, much of his relatively prolific output has survived and he has earned a place in the history books as the most famous composer of his generation not to have worked in Italy. Yet, for all this, he is largely forgotten today. Thankfully, enthusiasts such as Stephen Rice and his Brabant Ensemble are doing a sterling job in plugging the gaps in his discography. Missa Nuncqua Fue Pena Mayor, the earlier of two Masses on this disc is not the most promising place to start, however. While there are some variations in texture and rhythm, it is a rather plain four-part setting. Despite an empathetic approach to text by the singers, the music itself comes across as rather academic. (Perhaps it would have helped to hear the song on which it is based first.) The later Missa Inviolata is a much more interesting and accomplished affair with flashes of rhythmic brilliance and interesting text setting, still within the confines of four parts. Recalling the style of Josquin, Salve Regina VI effectively varies combinations of voices to make the final four-part section of the motet…

Processing...
Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
ErrorHere