An Old Belief: Parry, Campion, McDowall

The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

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An Old Belief: Parry, Campion, McDowall Review

by James Manheim

An Old Belief has an unusual structure among the vast output of The Sixteen. Rather than a collection of similarly formed pieces or a single large work, it consists of a sequence of short pieces leading up to an extended work, the Songs of Farewell, written by Hubert Parry during World War I, near the end of his life. The album takes its title from one of these songs. The album was recorded in 2021, well before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, but it is timely. Parry's mood, seeing several of his students killed in action, was gloomy and resigned, and he chose texts that reflected a desire to seek solace in faith or in the approach of death. They're wonderful songs, somewhat under-performed, and it would be hard to imagine better performances than the ones here, with The Sixteen bulked up slightly. The program was assembled for a tour and includes various kinds of pieces, with medieval works accompanied by bell and tabor, Herbert Howells' Take him, Earth, for Cherishing, as well as several Renaissance pieces by Thomas Campion. There is also a new work by Cecilia McDowall, An unexpected shore, from a new cycle, Good News from New England, marking the beginning of British colonization in North America. This doesn't quite fit with the rest of the program, even if subsequent events had not occurred, but in general, the album builds beautifully toward a powerful conclusion with the Parry work. A very strong outing from The Sixteen that has been rightfully rewarded with commercial success.

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