Choir of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral / Duncan Ferguson

John Sheppard: Sacred Choral Music

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The music of the English generations before Byrd is becoming more common on recordings as performing groups have become more familiar with what it takes to effectively present it. The name of John Sheppard, a contemporary of Tallis, was known only to specialists a quarter century ago, but performances like this one by the Choir of St. Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, are bringing Sheppard to a wider audience. Like Thomas Tallis, Sheppard wrote music in both the lush Catholic and the sparer Protestant styles, but much of the latter has been lost. These motets and the central Missa Cantante features rich polyphony interspersed with episodes of reduced texture. They demand singers of absolute clarity, or else the lines of music merge into sonic mush. Likewise, the music proceeds not in the orderly polyphonic entrances of the 16th century but in a sort of interweaving of melodic shapes, and the performance has to be a sensitive one in spite of the vast spaces the music fills. This Scottish performance fills the bill in all respects, but perhaps the real star of the show is producer Paul Baxter, working in the choir's sizable home, who delivers an exemplary sonic treatment of the English cathedral style with a good-sized group. Highly recommended.

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