The Choir of Merton College, Oxford, has released a series of thematic albums that depart in several ways from the common run of British collegiate choral products. The first is the willingness of the choir to depart from a pristine sound and to build tension through the judicious application of what Astor Piazzolla once called mud. Committed fans of John Tavener may well find the choir's recording of Two Hymns to the Mother of God (tracks 12 and 13) worth the price of admission in itself. The second novelty is the application of the Christmas programming concept of combining contemporary and Renaissance material to other Christian themes. The Choir of Merton College is of course not the first group to do this, but the idea has been worked out unusually well here: there are newly commissioned pieces about Mary, all of them from female composers and displaying a fascinating variety of perspectives, and the choir's pair of conductors are seemingly given the chance to follow their own leads. The focus is naturally on the newer music, but the version of Byrd's Salve Regina led by veteran conductor Peter Phillips seems to stand at the center of the whole program. The emotional involvement of the young singers in the music provides an X factor in the album's favor, as does the deep familiarity of the performers and the engineers of the British audiophile label Delphian with the sound environment of the group's home base, Merton College Chapel. An unusually satisfying British choral release.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The Veil of the Temple|
|Hymns to the Mother of God|