Tuesday 24 April 2018

Passio - from Tallis & Purcell to Kevin Hartnett via Bach

Passio - Zurich Chamber Singers - ARS Produktion
Passio - Tallis, Purcell, Kevin Hartnett, Bach; The Zurich CHamber Singers, Christian Erny; Ars Produktion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 April 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A young Swiss choir in a programme which moves from the English baroque through Bach to the contemporary

This disc from the Zurich Chamber Singers, conductor Christian Erny, on Ars Produktion is an intriguing journey through passion and mourning from Tallis and Purcell, through Bach to the contemporary in the shape of Kevin Hartnett. The centrepieces of the programme are Henry Purcell's Funeral Sentences and Bach's Jesu meine Freude, alongside Hartnett's De profundis from 2016, bookended by a pair of Tallis motets, Salvator mundi and If ye love me.

The choir was founded in 2015 by Christian Erny and musicologist Emanuel Signer, and is made up of 18 young singers from the Zurich area. They make a lovely clear bright sound, with a soprano line which has a focused tonal quality approaching boys voices. Technically, this is a very beautiful disc indeed.

Their opening item, Tallis' Salvator mundi is beautifully poised, with a lovely clarity of line. But the weakness of this approach is apparent in the three Purcell Funeral Sentences. Here the choir's sense of line and clear tone cannot disguise the lack of projection on the words. If you concentrate, you can hear that their English is entirely creditable but the words just do not come over and in this style of music that is essential.

The De profundis by contemporary American composer Kevin Hartnett requires a different approach to the Purcell, and here the choir's attention to detail pays off. Full of sustained lines, the work is an intense meditation, but within this sustained texture we can detect a myriad of little details. The work was written for the choir and premiered by them in March 2016.

Bach's Jesu Freude is generally assumed to be a funeral motet, though there is little documentary evidence beyond the form of the piece itself. The choir perform it with the instrumental support which would have been used in Bach's day. Here the choir really does project the text, as his highly important in this type of piece, in the Lutheran church music was there to support the word. The choir's performance is lithe and light, though that does not mean they skate over things. They bring a wonderful variety to the individual movements, with some fine solo work in the trios a nice crispness to the technically demanding details. Overall this is a very engaging performance, the youth of the singers giving it a very particular and appealing sound.

The disc concludes with Tallis's If ye love me, again beautifully poised and here the words have a clarity to them but given the importance of the words at this point in the English Reformation, the choir do not make enough of them..

This is quite a short disc, the programme notes say that 'the progamme is designed to be relatively short in order to give room to each of these ardent works to interact with those from other periods of music'. An interesting and admirable thought perhaps, but at 43 minutes the programme still feels quite short.

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) - Salvator mundi
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) - Funeral Sentences
Kevin Hartnett (born 1990)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) - Jesu, meine Freude
Thomas Tallis - If ye love me
The Zurich Chamber Singers
Christian Entry (conductor)
Recorded 14-15 October 2017, Konservatorium Winterthur, Konzertsaal
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Beethoven unbound and Schubert cycles, I chat to Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams - interview
  • Bernstein, Debussy, Parry, Smyth, Bridge, Boulanger, Owen - BBC Proms 2018 - preview
  • What an unalloyed joy! And if all this isn’t advert enough for some sensible funding I don’t know what is (★★★★) - concert review
  • Songs of Vain Glory: Sophie Bevan & Sebastian Wybrew (★★★★) - CD review
  • William Billings to contemporary Icelandic & Finnish music: Skylark's Seven Words on the Cross (★★★) - CD review
  • Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum: Siglo de Oro (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Returning home: Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen at Oper Leipzig (★★★★)  - Opera review
  • Sacred and Profane: The Sixteen's 2018 Choral Pilgrimage opens at St Albans Cathedral (★★★★)  - concert review
  • Light Divine: a final glimpse of treble Aksel Rykkvin (★★★½) - CD review
  • David Hare's The Moderate Soprano at the Duke of York's Theatre (★★★★)  - theatre review
  • Handel's Teseo at the London Handel Festival (★★★★) - opera review
  • Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto from Early Opera Company at London Handel Festival  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Concrete Dreams (★★★★)  - exhibition review
  • Home

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