The emergence of the Exultate Singers, founded in 2002 by David Ogden, adds to the growing list of stellar British mixed choirs capable of producing topnotch performances of some of the most dauntingly challenging choral literature. In its debut recording for Naxos, the group beautifully sings a mix of familiar and less-well-known 20th and 21st century works, ranging from Holst's 1915 Nunc Dimittis to Roxanna Panufnik's All Shall Be Well, written in 2009 and commissioned by the ensemble for a concert marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Three of the nine works, including the Panufnik, Tavener's Svyati, and Knut Nystedt's Stabat Mater are accompanied by solo cello, played by Richard May, whose sound blends mellifluously with that of the singers. It's lovely repertoire, almost all of it written in the richly saturated harmonic language of the not-dissimilar late Romantic or post-modern choral traditions. The Nystedt 1986 Stabat Mater, the concluding work on the album, may provide a slight jolt after the sweetness that precedes it. It's essentially within the same ballpark as the other pieces aesthetically but it has moments with a decidedly spiky, modernist bite. It's really a matter of context; if it were heard after more conventionally modernist pieces, it would sound like a model of mellow euphony, so listeners need not be scared off by its relative daring among the works recorded here. The Panufnik is a real find, a piece that deserves a place in the canon of contemporary classics along with works by composers like Mortensen and Whitacre, which it resembles in its ecstatic lyricism. Naxos' sound is balanced and clean, but with a tendency toward shrillness in the loudest passages where the higher voices predominate.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Vespers (All-Night Vigil), Op. 37|