The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

The Voice of the Turtle Dove

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The title of this release comes from the biblical Song of Solomon: "The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land." The words come from the nearly 18-minute Vox patris caelestis of William Mundy, like most of the music on the album, hardly common. Tudor church music, vast in its architecture but without a fixed organizing principle like the Renaissance styles that followed, has always been a bit of a tough sell with general audiences, and of the three composers represented here -- Mundy, Richard Davy, and John Sheppard -- only the last-named has made a dent in the consciousness of Renaissance choral-music fans. This difficult style of music receives perhaps its ideal interpretation here from the Sixteen, a group that has lately aimed at crossover markets. The key lies in their precision, mellowed by a bit of lyricism. The dense, swirling polyphonic lines of this music came alive because they were sung by really top-notch choirs such as that of Eton College, Cambridge, for which the Eton Choirbook manuscript was compiled. With the Sixteen, under director Harry Christophers, it's easy to imagine the crisp interlocking of the network of polyphony as the Mundy work and the similarly sizable Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria of Sheppard and O Domine caeli terraeque creation of Davy. And it's also possible to imagine how the text of Vox patris caelestis came across: there's a sweetness here that is usually missing in performances of these monumental pieces. It's evident especially in the limpid renderings of the shorter works on the program. Finally there's the wonderful engineering work done, not at Oxford or Cambridge, but at the Church of St. Alban the Martyr in London. Tudor church music may never compete at the cash register with Bach, or even with Josquin, but this is a loving and lovely performance.

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