The Sun Most Radiant – ‘utterly cool brilliance which blossoms into transcendent radiance’

We are delighted to receive two further appreciative reviews of our recent release, The Sun Most Radiant, Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol. 4, in BBC Music Magazine and in Gramophone.

The Eton Choirbook, compiled around 1515, contains around 60 works by composers associated not only with Eton but also with the Chapel Royal and other institutions. It has never been recorded complete (a five-CD set by The Sixteen is the most comprehensive), and this latest disc from the ongoing Avie selection contains two first recordings – Browne’s Salve Regina II and Horwood’s Gaude flore virginali. These really are brilliantly composed works, and Stephen Darlington and the Christchurch Choir understand them better than most. In the case of Browne’s Salve Regina I, for example, the long, rhapsodic lines are given the time, direction and acoustic space to unfold organically and with clarity. They transpose the piece up a tone, as do The Sixteen on Coro, which gives it brightness, but the latter scramble through it in 11 minutes while Christchurch take 15. A similar deft spaciousness comes in this version of Stratford’s Magnificat when compared with the Tonus Peregrinus attempt on Naxos. Of the two premiere recordings, the Horwood item works best with the choir representing the trio sections with an utterly cool brilliance which blossoms into transcendent radiance at the entry of the full choir.

Anthony Pryer, BBC Music Magazine, December 2016

With this instalment of music from the Eton Choirbook, the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral sets out to rival The Sixteen’s five-volume anthology from the 1990s. Already it seems to me that they surpass it technically – which is remarkable considering the inevitable changes of personnel that time imposes on a choir with boy trebles – and interpretatively. As I noted of Vol 3 (11/14), they have also worked their way through those Eton pieces that had not been recorded before, and the quality of their performances has changed my appreciation of several ‘minor’ composers for the better.

Volume 4 is the most satisfying of the set since the first. Even by the standards of previous instalments, Stephen Darlington’s tempi are surprisingly relaxed, especially in duple-time sections. Judged by the clock one might even call them slow, but the textural detail is so clear that the abiding impression is of deliberation rather than ponderousness. The trebles have stamina and poise, and they understand how to shape their lines, as may be heard in John Browne’s Salve regina I and William Horwood’s Gaude flore virginali (the latter being new to the catalogue).

The adult cast is perhaps the strongest of the set so far: their reading of the Magnificat by one ‘William, Monk of Stratford’ is more nuanced than The Sixteen’s, so that a work that had seemed to me relevatively undistinguished comes across far more favourably. Browne’s Salve regina I (with trebles) has had several fine recordings but his Salve regina II for adult singers is the only one of his completely transmitted pieces that had never been committed to disc. Less immediately striking than its counterpart, the subtle interplay of its lines is increasingly absorbing the more one listens to it. Had more of Browne’s music survived, I have little doubt that he would be considered the equal of Dunstable and Taverner, and possibly even Tallis. As it is, no other Eton composer equals his technical resource or imagination. But there are still a couple of his motets left to record: dare we hope for a Vol 5?

Fabrice Fitch, Gramophone ‘Editor’s Choice’, November 2016

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