Harry Christophers / The Sixteen

James MacMillan: Miserere

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This collection of sacred choral music, mostly a cappella, includes an exceptionally attractive assortment of James MacMillan's motets and other works written for liturgical use. It would have to be an exceptional church choir that could negotiate the composer's vocal and choral demands, but for those churches, these pieces would lend considerable musical and emotional power to the service. The Sixteen, Harry Christophers' remarkable mixed chamber choir, is undaunted by the extreme virtuosity required and deliver performances that dazzle in their technical polish and expressive impact. This music, while largely tonal, has enough dissonant spice that anything less than immaculate intonation can sound like mush and the Sixteen nails MacMillan's harmonies beautifully. That purity, coupled with acute precision of articulation, makes these performances exemplary accounts of the music. MacMillan can overshoot in his large-scale choral works, some of which tend to lose impact because they can come across as overly ambitious in their attempts at grandeur, but these pieces, most of which last around ten minutes or less, are on a scale that calls forth some of the composer's most inspired writing. Miserere, recorded here for the first time and dedicated to Christophers, is a real stunner in its powerful use of simple means and its transcendent climax. It, like many of these pieces, takes plainchant as its basis. In splendoribus sanctorum, with a solo trumpet accompaniment, is a real show-stopper, creating an awesome, ceremonial sense of majesty. The three Tenebrae Responsories, liturgical descriptions of the crucifixion, are the most dissonant pieces and also among the most powerfully astonishing and expressive works on the album. Coro's sound is characteristically clean, warm, detailed, and well balanced. Highly recommended for fans of contemporary choral music.

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