The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

The Deer's Cry: William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Arvo Pärt

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The popular choral group the Sixteen has never sounded better than on this release, and fans of the ensemble can buy with confidence in acquiring a set of classic English Renaissance pieces with a few modern works for spice. For the unconverted it's a bit less convincing, but it has a strong idea. The album title comes from the conventional name of a prayer of none other than St. Patrick, set in modern English by Arvo Pärt in 2007. There are two other works by Pärt on the album, both well known, but the rest of the music is by William Byrd and in a couple of cases, one collaborative, by Thomas Tallis. The idea of combining Byrd and Pärt is a very strong one. Both drew on the experience of being religious recusants, and it's fascinating to hear the musical results of this experience even with more than four centuries separating the works of the two composers. Director Harry Christophers establishes the simple, inward side of Byrd on the program, but also sets Byrd apart with such works as the palindromic Diliges Dominum (track one) and the intricate Ad Dominum cum tribularer (track seven). Sample a Byrd/Pärt pair, such as the familiar Emendemus in melius and The Woman with the Alabaster Box (tracks four and five) for an indication of the possible power of Christophers' approach here. The problem is that Pärt is outnumbered on the program: having drawn the connection between Byrd and Pärt, the performers give it short shrift. The result is a handsomely performed program, but one that treats Pärt as an ornament rather than exploring the commonalities among these composers in depth.

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