Magdalen College Choir, Oxford / Mark Williams

The Pillar of the Cloud: Five Centuries of Oxford Anthems

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The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, is qualified to present a program subtitled "Five Centuries of Oxford Anthems," for the choir has been around longer than that: it has existed in one form or another since 1458. It would be hard to detect an "Oxford style" in this collection of anthems, save for the opening Lead, kindly light with its text by the Oxfordian John Henry Newman, whose text furnishes the album's title. Nor do you really get five centuries' worth; the music, as usual for such releases, comes from the Renaissance on one hand and the 20th century on the other. However, the album does stand out from heavy competition, and it gives you an idea of why this choir has been so prolific and successful in the recording arena. Director Mark Williams (this album marks his recorded debut with the choir) does not squeeze his boy choristers into a narrow groove of vocal purity. He admits some personality into the music, personality that matches what is being sung in the text, and he works extremely well with his young soloists. Sample Edmund Rubbra's "There is a spirit" (from Three Motets, Op. 76), a work that needs the rather devoted performance it receives here. The sound is excellent, and it has the elusive quality of a group that knows how to live in a space musically. Recommended.

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