Magnificat - The Tudors At Prayer - All Music
The sacred music of the Tudor era in England has enjoyed a certain vogue lately with strong performances by the Sixteen and other groups bringing the repertory beyond enthusiasts of the cathedral style. This one, by the 18-voice British choir Magnificat, has much to recommend it. The choir may be about the same size as the Sixteen, but the restrained, precise quality of Magnificat's singing has a flavor different from that of the Sixteen's recordings. These big motets and antiphons proceed without a lot of dynamic contrast or sensuous phrase-shaping, letting the rather impersonal quality of the music stand on its own and rendering the dissonant stacks that pile up at phrase ends with uncanny clarity. The program is very well chosen. England, as the excellent booklet notes, underwent enormous changes over the roughly 40 years covered by the repertory performed, but the large Latin piece remained a kind of composerly tradition, created even when there was no large official need for one. The program here is devoted entirely to these works, and the listener's ear attunes itself to the differences among them, from the massive Vox patris caelestis of William Mundy to the High Renaissance sounds of Tallis and Byrd at the end of the period. Linn's engineering work in St. George's Chesterton church in Cambridge is exemplary, and this is a release that belongs on any decent shelf or hard drive of English choral music.