The cheesy greeting-card graphics of this release conceal a programming concept of some originality, as well as beautiful singing by a sleeper among the English collegiate choirs. The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, is not the best known among this group, but they absolutely nail the high unisons so vital to the style of music performed here. That style receives a name -- Ecstatic -- and some currents of influence that may or may not make historical sense, but are interesting nonetheless. The choir and its director, Sarah MacDonald, locate the beginning of this Ecstatic style in the U.S.: specifically in the music of Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen, who made some inroads in Britain and continental Europe, and Randall Thompson, who made fewer. It is good to hear Thompson's Alleluia, a well-loved piece for anyone who sang in an American choir in the 1970s or so, kick off the program in a place of honor. MacDonald finds the American influence not only in the music of Tavener and James MacMillan, but also in that of a host of younger composers (there are several world premieres here) who expand on the style in various ways. Is it valid? Did MacMillan listen to Morten Lauridsen? One answer might be that it doesn't really matter, that the quite technically rigorous spirituality in these pieces was a vein waiting to be tapped, and that the Americans got to it first. In any event, the album is uncannily well recorded, and if you like slow-moving a cappella choral sacred music that builds in impact through the use of thrilling, precisely rendered dissonant intervals, this release will bring you a new take on the tradition.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Hymns to the Mother of God|
|Now sleeps the crimson petal|