Tenebrae / Aurora Orchestra / Nigel Short

Paul Mealor: I Saw Eternity

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Welsh choral composer Paul Mealor broke through to fame in late 2011 with Wherever You Are, a choral setting of letters written to British military personnel in Afghanistan by their partners. The piece reached number one on Britain's pop singles chart, apparently stimulating the acquisition in 2014 by the Decca label of this group of sacred compositions, originally recorded earlier in 2011 and benefiting from the superb engineering of the original label, Linn. The result is music in the John Rutter mode: pleasantly tonal and reverent settings of religious texts by contemporary poets. The shorter anthems are mostly for those who like to have their convictions pleasantly reaffirmed. The choral writing is often very good, and Mealor gives the trebles of the acclaimed small choir Tenebrae the chance to show what they can do in such pieces as Blessing (track 10). Most interesting is the six-section Crucifixus, a setting of poems by Peter Davidson describing Christ's crucifixion. The poetry is mixed with biblical passage in Latin, and the music, too, is a mixture: Mealor draws on a variety of sacred styles, all the way back to plainchant, but he doesn't use them in conventional ways. The result is a setting of these solemn texts that is personal and intimate in both text and music. Tenebrae, moving into crossover territory, adjusts its style effectively for the more directly expressive content of this music as compared with its Renaissance repertory. Recommended for those who like Rutter and his fellow travelers in the contemporary conservative British sacred music movement.

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