King's Consort Choir / Robert King

A Voice from Heaven: British Choral Masterpieces

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The neutral "British Choral Masterpieces" subtitle of this release by the venerable Choir of King's Consort masks what is actually quite distinct and intimate content. The music does not draw on all periods of British music, but rather consists of pieces from the 20th century that fall more or less into the long tail-end of the British Romantic tradition. The exceptions are two works by John Tavener, each of which has a good reason for being there: the beautiful performance of the Song for Athene rings down the curtain with the utmost calm, and his setting of the funeral Take him, earth, for cherishing text points to the larger organization of the program. It is one of a group of pairs of treatments of the same text, most of them separated by several decades. The booklet gives generous explanations of the connections among these composers and of how the later settings came to be (Tavener found inspiration, for example, in Herbert Howells' setting of the fourth century text after the death of his own brother), and the listener comes away with a deeper understanding of the nature of the modern British tradition. Compelling as all this is, it's less significant than the beauty of the performances themselves, by Robert King and his choir. Sample the limpid beauty of Lennox Berkeley's Justorum animae, which, like several of the other later settings, is economical in comparison with the earlier setting by Charles Villiers Stanford. There's an example of work by the current generation (the setting of Drop, drop, slow tears by Thomas Hewitt Jones), and a few other freestanding pieces that make sense in context. King puts the basses forward in the vocal blend, which may or may not be to your taste, but the sonic environment of St. Jude's Church is right. Highly recommended.

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