Harry Christophers and his choir The Sixteen have made something of a specialty of the Eton Choirbook, a collection of pieces compiled in the first years of the 16th century, representing music from the last decades of the 15th. It has otherwise rarely been recorded; the music is difficult both physically and interpretively, with long works that offer the listener few toeholds. You wouldn't think the clean sounds of The Sixteen would be ideal for it, but they do well. The music is sometimes taken to be a bit mystical with its swirling, featureless lines, but of course in the 16th century it wasn't mystical; it was rich and sumptuous. This is what Christophers gets. The Sixteen are properly bulked up here to between 18 and 23 singers (he could have gone even larger, for this is music of vast spaces), and he gives them free rein to put a little bit of roughness into their singing. This showcases the sensuousness of the big Salve Regina of Robert Wylkynson, which is a really spectacular performance and worth repeated plays. Christophers further reflects on the enduring resonances of the Eton Choirbook in contemporary music, commissioning new works that set the same texts as used in pieces by Walter Lambe (twice) and William Cornysh. If there's a weakness here, it's that the connections drawn are rather general ones; the inclusion of the four-movement Hallowed by Stephen Hough at the end adds little. But the large dimensions of William Cornysh and Phillip Cook in their settings of Ave Maria, mater Dei are impressive. Recommended, along with others in The Sixteen's Eton Choirbook series.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim