Monteverdi Choir / John Eliot Gardiner

Vigilate!

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British conductor John Eliot Gardiner has generally been more oriented toward foreign music with a strong dramatic element, from Monteverdi to Bach, than to English sacred music. Perhaps it is a surprise, then, that he has turned to English music of the 16th century to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Monteverdi Choir in 2014. Vigilate! takes its title from a piece by William Byrd, who is represented six times here, but the focus is not exclusively on the closeted Catholics of the century's end. Instead Gardiner draws generally from music across a turbulent century, most but not all of it in Latin. As with many of his other recordings, Gardiner is willing to sacrifice a bit of precision in favor of emotional insight and expression, and that's a good trade-off in a field awash with recordings by venerable cathedral choirs. Gardiner's mixed-gender adult choir digs into the dark shades of Thomas Tallis' Suscipe quaeso Domine, sustains the lengthy despair of Robert White's Lamentations for six voices, and attacks with gusto the dissonances in the sparsely performed Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, by Thomas Tomkins. Hardly a typical album of Renaissance English polyphony, but an unusually affecting one.

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