Harry Christophers / The Sixteen

O Guiding Night: The Spanish Mystics

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O Guiding Light, a 2011 release by the Sixteen and Harry Christophers, has all the hallmarks that tend to characterize their performances: crystalline intonation, sumptuous tonal luster, expansive dynamic range, and acute musical insight. This album includes nine contemporary works, three each by three British composers, mostly setting texts by 16th century Spanish mystics Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. Each of the pieces is attractive on its own, but the tracks by Tarik O'Regan leap out because of his especially assured handling of the voices; his control of magical choral textures; his harmonic language, which is exquisitely sweet without being cloying; and the depth of his insight into the texts. The distinctiveness and substance of O'Regan's pieces make the other works, as appealing as they are, pale in comparison. All of the composers set Saint Teresa's famous prayer, "Nada te turbe" (Let Nothing Trouble You), and their settings exemplify the differences in their approaches. The versions by Ruth Byrchmore and Roderick Williams (a renowned baritone who describes composing as "a glorified hobby," but whose work is thoroughly professional) are expertly written but essentially conventional anthems that set the texts clearly and have a traditional musical arc. In O'Regan's, on the other hand, the text is embedded almost unobtrusively in ethereal, subtly evolving, wordless choral textures. Byrchmore and Williams' works dramatically highlight the textual details of the prayer while O'Regan's creates in the listener the feelings of serenity and quiet assurance that the prayer is intended to impart; Byrchmore and Williams describe the experience and O'Regan gives us the experience. Coro's sound is warm but clear, with a natural ambience.

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