Francesco Durante – Requiem

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In an exciting new collaboration, Christ Church Cathedral Choir joins forces with soloists from The Sixteen and Oxford Baroque on this new recording of Francesco Durante’s Requiem Mass in C minor.

Despite its enduring popularity in the 18th century this beautiful and majestic work was never published but survives through over 50 manuscript copies scattered across Europe. It is a remarkable work which can justly be described as one of the most important orchestral Requiem settings of the 18th century. This is the premiere recording of Stephen Darlington’s new edition of the work which shows Durante to be a composer of considerable skill and invention, who combined his mastery of counterpoint with an elegance of melody, a richness of harmony and an imaginative instinct for structure.

This album also features Durante’s exquisite Organ Concerto in B flat major – a rare example of an Italian keyboard concerto of the period – performed here by celebrated organist, Clive Driskill-Smith.

Christ Church Cathedral Choir
Soloists from The Sixteen
Oxford Baroque
Clive Driskell-Smith – Organ
Stephen Darlington – Conductor

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Francesco Durante (1684-1755) made a profound mark on musical culture in early-18th-century Naples. His pupils at the city’s prestigious conservatories included Pergolesi, Traetta, Piccinni and Paisiello. A renowned composer of sacred music, Durante wrote at least three Requiems; an elaborate setting in C minor dated 1746 was probably written for Rome’s S Giacomo degli Spagnoli (in the Piazza Navona) to commemorate the recently deceased Philip V of Spain. More than 50 manuscript copies are dotted around the world, some of them written out as late as 1871, but the work has never been published. It has been edited for this recording by Stephen Darlington, who praises the way Durante’s music combines ‘mastery of counterpoint with an elegance of melody, a richness of harmony and a structural instinct’.

Sometimes singing in five parts and elsewhere in eight, Christ Church Cathedral Choir are on superb form in this skilfully woven music. The assured boy choristers are balanced elegantly with the unforced ease of the adult lay clerks. Durante’s string accompaniments are astutely varied and played by Oxford Baroque with perfect sincerity and stylistic finesse; an obvious dramatic trick is reeling downward spirals that insinuate hints of fire and brimstone in ‘Dies irae’ and ‘Quid sum miser’. The only departure from economical orchestral scoring is a subtle pair of natural horns used to splendid effect in ‘Tuba mirum’, an attractive soprano aria sung limpidly by Alexandra Kidgell. The plaintive quintet of soloists (drawn from The Sixteen), anguished choral supplications and Oxford Baroque’s players are articulately expressive in the vivid contrasts during ‘Ingemisco tamquam reus’. The suspension-laden passages for solo voices in ‘Lacrimosa’, unfurling choral lines in ‘Benedictus’ and imaginative harmonic twists in ‘Libera me’ all reveal hints of why the 18th-century music historian Charles Burney acclaimed Durante as the greatest harmonist of his time.

David Vickers, Gramophone, January 2017
(Click here to see the online version of this review.)

…top of the list now…

Andrew McGregor, Record Review (at 1:34:40), BBC Radio 3, 29 October 2016

This first collaboration between Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral Choir, members of The Sixteen and Oxford Baroque – a tremendous combination, much to be encouraged – reveals Francesco Durante’s never-before published Requiem in C minor in all its 18th-century glory.Stephen Darlington has produced a performing edition, drawing on manuscript copies scattered across Europe, and conducts the elegant, richly melodic score with unique understanding. The soloists are uniformly excellent, and the string playing as crisp and alert as the fresh young voices of the Christ Church trebles.

Stephen Pritchard, The Observer, 30 October 2016
(Click here to see the online version of this review.)

…the singing is excellent from choir and soloists. And it is good to hear the distinctive sound of well-regulated boys’ voices taking the treble line.

Andrew Benson-Wilson
Early Music Reviews

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Francesco Durante (1684-1755)

Requiem Mass in C minor
1. Introitus. Requiem – Kyrie
2. Graduale. Requiem – Tractus
3. Sequentia. Dies irae
4. Sequentia. Tuba mirum
5. Sequentia. Mors stupebit
6. Sequentia. Quid sum miser
7. Sequentia. Recordare
8. Sequentia. Quaerens me
9. Sequentia. Ingemisco
10. Sequentia. Lacrimosa
11. Offertorium. Domine Jesu
12. Offertorium. Hostias
13. Sanctus – Osanna
14. Benedictus – Osanna
15. Agnus Dei
16. Communio
17. Libera me. Libera me (i)
18. Libera me. Dies illa
19. Libera me. Requiem aeternam
20. Libera me. Libera me (ii)
21. Responsorium

Organ Concerto in B flat major
22. Allegro
23. Grave
24. Allegro

Total playing time: 63.27

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The Sun Most Radiant – Music from the Eton Choirbook Vol. 4

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This CD of music from the Eton Choirbook, the vast collection of English sacred music from the early Renaissance, is the fourth in an acclaimed series by Stephen Darlington and The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford which has proved to be a thrilling encounter with the remarkable world of the liturgy of Eton College Chapel in the late 15th century. This sumptuous volume includes two first recordings: John Browne’s second setting of the Salve Regina, and William Horwood’s Gaude flore virginali. This music was firmly rooted in the daily devotional life of the College, appreciated by all and not just a worshipping élite. The boys and men of Christ Church Cathedral choir maintain this tradition with a special affinity for this glorious repertoire.

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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

The fourth volume in the Avie’s superb exploration of the Eton Choirbook brings us two superb Salve Reginas by John Browne, the Magnificat by William, Monk of Stratford and William Horwood’s Gaude flore virginali. Again and again I was stuck by Stephen Darlington’s affinity with this music: his instinctive choice of effective tempi, his effortless transitions from section to section and his masterly overview of these large-scale works. Impressive too, as in the previous volumes, is the ability of his singers to transition effortlessly from tutti to solo singers and back again. A cathedral choir is an entity which like a vintage wine changes flavour over time, and one factor in this is the unpredictable boy treble section. Some listeners to Browne’s first Salve Regina may feel that the solo and tutti boy treble sound is not quite as sweet as on the choir’s previous recordings in the series, but to my mind this is just an aspect of the natural evolution of any choir’s sound. The more familiar of the two Browne Salve reginas is for the standard five-part ‘Eton’ choir and the Oxford choristers rise well to its challenges. The other setting, remarkably receiving its premiere recording here, is set for TTTBarB and also proves to be a stunning masterpiece, muscular and dynamic. The Monk of Stratford’s Magnificat is also for adult male voices, and it too allows the remarkable lower voices of the choir to shine. William Horwood’s SATTB setting of Gaude flore virginali, also receiving its premiere recording, proves to be a work of profound inspiration and invention. To my ear the treble contribution here sounds more mellow too. It is remarkable to think that music of such superlative quality is still being rediscovered, and full congratulations are due to Avie and to Stephen Darlington and his choir for their ongoing project.

D James Ross, Early Music Review, 14 October 2016

This … is essential in terms of both content and performance quality. It represents the fourth installment in the Christ Church Cathedral Choir’s ongoing survey of English choral music from the Eton Choirbooks, and yet again the program features two world-premiere recordings: a previously-unheard Salve Regina setting by John Browne, and the motet Gaude flore virginali by the early and obscure composer William Horwood. As usual, the recorded sound is burnished and radiant, the choral blend is colorful but smooth, and the singers’ intonation is solid. All libraries with classical collections should be acquiring all of the discs in this series as they appear.

Rick Anderson, CD HotList, 3 October 2016

Here are four huge pieces from Eton College’s volume of pre-Reformation riches, two of them elaborate Salve Regina settings by John Browne. The first contains glories enough, but the male-voice second possesses remarkable sensual richness and sense of destination. The performances of these, and of William Horwood’s Gaude Flore Virginali and a Magnificat by William, Monk of Stratford, are excellent.

Stephen Pettitt, Sunday Times, 2 October 2016

Stephen Darlington’s Christ Church Cathedral Choir is … worthy of being recorded, as they triumphantly prove here with another volume of offerings from the Eton Choirbook, a vast collection of English sacred music from the early renaissance. This almost 70-minute offering focuses especially on John Browne, who was writing music between 1480 and 1505. Alongside two other obscure names to most lay people – William Horwood and William Stratford – Darlington and his team offer some fascinating music … the impact is simply the beauty of what is on display, and the sheer quality of the music making, that allows us to reach back more than 500 years to reinvigorate ourselves in an entirely different musical world, with a religious sense, very different to our own. This is for the adventurous, but almost anyone with a taste for choral music will find much to enjoy here.

David Mellor, Classic FM New Album Reviews, 4 August 2016

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John Browne (fl. c.1480–1505)
1. Salve Regina I a 5 (15.01)
2. Salve Regina II a 5 * (18.47)

William Horwood (c.1430 – 1484)
3. Gaude flore virginali a 5 * (14.56)

William Stratford (fl. late 15th – early 16th centuries)
4. Magnificat a 4 (19.45)

* first recordings

Recording: 14–16 March 2016, Chapel of Merton College, Oxford
Producer: Jeremy Summerly
Balance engineer and editing: Simon Fox-Gál

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Christmas Music

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Christmas is a time when we celebrate long-held traditions: family gatherings, exchanges of presents, snow-covered scenes and images of the baby Jesus lying in a crib surrounded by the adoring shepherds, wise men and Mary and Joseph. Music is a crucial part of this annual festival. There is no shortage of Christmas carol repertoire recorded by Christ Church Cathedral Choir on the Nimbus label, but in this selection we have decided to bring together music that reflects some different aspects of the season. This is music to lift the spirits and transport the listener into a world of mystery.

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Stephen Darlington has chosen William Mathias’s Ave Rex and Poulenc’s Salve Regina to go with five great composers. Tudor England provides Byrd, Taverner and Sheppard, Palestrina represents Italy and Joao Rodrigues Esteves is Portugal. Superb meld of ancient and modern.

Tully Porter, Daily Mail, 19 December 2015

There’s nothing like an English Cathedral or Collegiate Choir at Christmas and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford under their Director, Stephen Darlington are one of the finest with their new recording for Nimbus of sacred Christmas works from the 16th to the 20th century.

What is particularly attractive about this new disc is that it avoids the usual selection of Christmas carols and, instead, brings us some of the finest sacred Christmas choral works from the 16th to the 20th century.

This new disc opens with William Byrd’s (1543-1623) A solis ortus cardine (The sun rises), a plainsong hymn which transports us back over 400 years with the Christ Church Cathedral Choir providing some lovely individual voices in the various passages, building in texture and power before the end.

The Welsh composer William Mathias (1934-1992) wrote much choral music, his Ave Rex – A Carol Sequence, Op.45 being one of the longer pieces on this disc.

Ave Rex (Hail King) opens with an organ flourish before the choristers sing a repeated Ave, Ave. The adult voices and organ continue in this thoroughly contemporary yet strikingly attractive setting before all the choir come together blending beautifully in Mathias’ harmonies.

The choir rise up beautifully in the joyful Alleluya A new work is come on hand with many little subtleties and some terrific weaving and overlaying of texts. The choristers open There is no rose of such virtue against a hushed organ chord before the adult voices take over. After the choristers return the whole choir then leads on with a beautiful flow and texture, so exquisitely gentle. The music rises up passionately before calming with a solo treble and choir leading to a very fine coda.

Staccato organ chords open Sir Christèmas before the choir sound out in this joyful concluding section. There is a central organ section before the choir rejoin bringing some exceptionally fine, powerful singing.

We go right back to the 16th century with John Taverner’s (1490-1545) Mater Christi sanctissima (Mother of Christ most holy). How this choir seem to excel in such diverse repertoire. Here they bring a transparency and brilliance to this fine piece, an antiphon on which the composer built his Mass of the same name; some absolutely splendid weaving of contrapuntal lines before rising to a final amen.

This recording continues with three more pieces by William Byrd, firstly his Hodie Christus natus est (Christ is born today), a fast flowing celebratory motet with this choir in full flow. Byrd’s O magnum misterium (Oh Great mystery) is a more measured setting, as befits the text, with some beautifully controlled singing. Puer natus est nobis (For is born to us) brings more of Byrd’s weaving of contrapuntal lines superbly handled by this choir.

John Sheppard (c.1515-c.1559) is still much undervalued yet he surely deserves to be recognised as one of the finest of 16th century English composers. Here his Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria (Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice Mary) provides a substantial example of just how fine he was. Stephen Darlington paces the choir perfectly with Sheppard’s rather melancholic setting sounding so fine. There is a lovely restraint in the slower, reflective passages and beautifully soaring passages elsewhere, bringing out Sheppard’s little harmonies and with some fine individual groups of voices.

Returning to the 20th century we come to Francis Poulenc (1889-1963). He wrote many very fine choral works of which Salve Regina (Hail Queen) is a fine example with this choir finding much beauty in the composer’s lovely harmonies.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s (c. 1525-1594) Magnificat (Sexti Toni à 6) is built on a plainchant melody that opens this work. Soon Palestrina’s genius suddenly allows the music to soar and what a sound the choir produces. They are magnificent. in this fine work with some lovely individual contributions including a fine treble. This is a particularly fine performance full of power, control, lovely weaving of musical lines and a glorious Amen.

The Portuguese composer João Rodrigues Esteves (1700–1751) is not a name that will be known to many. He has a link to Palestrina in that he studied in Rome with Ottavio Pitoni (1657-1743) a disciple of Palestrina and the writer of some 3,000 masses, psalms and hymns in the contrapuntal style of the earlier composer.

Esteves’ Beata Dei Genitrix (Mother of God) has a lovely swaying gait to it before it pushes ahead rhythmically. There is an odd little middle section for a smaller group of voices before the choir all join to lead to the coda.

Verbum caro factum est (The Word became flesh) has a gentle opening before Esteves pushes the music forward, again with a central section for a small group of soloists, very finely sung here. The choir rejoin and move forward but Esteves includes another section for the small vocal group before the choir lead to the fine coda.

There’s nothing like an English Cathedral or Collegiate Choir at Christmas and here is one of the finest we have. There are informative notes by Stephen Darlington but no texts. With singing as fine as this it hardly matters. This should be at the top of your Christmas music list.

Bruce Reader, The Classical Reviewer, 12 December 2014

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1 Byrd (1543-1623) – A solis ortus cardine 4.39
Mathias (1934-1992) – Ave Rex – A Carol Sequence Op. 45
2 I Ave Rex 2.32
3 II Alleluya, A new work is come on hand 1.44
4 III There is no rose of such virtue 4.37
5 IV Sir Christèmas 3.00
6 Taverner (1490-1545) – Mater Christi sanctissima 7.09
7 Byrd – Hodie Christus natus est 2.18
8 Byrd – O magnum misterium 5.48
9 Byrd – Puer natus est nobis 5.15
10 Shepperd – (c1515-c1559) – Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria 12.31
11 Poulenc (1899-1963) -Salve Regina 4.56
12 Palestrina (c1525-1594) -Magnificat (Sexti Toni à 6) 11.47
13 Esteves (c1700-1751) -Beata Dei Genitrix 3.37
14 Esteves – Verbum caro factum est 5.37

Total playing time 75.42

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Courts of Heaven – Music from the Eton Choirbook Vol. 3

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Shortlisted for Gramophone Awards 2015 (Early Music Category)

This collection of music from the Eton Choirbook, the vast collection of English sacred music from the early Renaissance, is the third in an acclaimed series by Stephen Darlington and The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford which has proved a thrilling encounter with the remarkable world of the liturgy of Eton College Chapel in the late 15th century. This is sumptuous music of huge complexity, ranging from the rich sonority of Wylkynson and Hampton to the contrapuntal intricacy of Fawkyner and Turges. This music was also firmly rooted in the daily devotional life of the College, appreciated by all and not just a worshipping élite. The boys and men of Christ Church Cathedral Choir maintain this tradition with a special affinity for this glorious repertoire and deliver performances of unreserved commitment.

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A magnificent addition to the Christ Church Cathedral Choir’s already outstanding Eton Choirbook seriews. … this is singing of the richest splendour.

The acoustic (Merton College Chapel in Oxford) could hardly be more appropriate for the soaring lines, offering heavenly resonance but with no muddying of texture. … This is music which can never be forced and Stephen Darlington paces things to perfection, allowing everything to breathe in the most natural way.

The works are ordered so as to provide an especially appealing start (the outstanding ‘Salve regina’ by Hampton …) and a truly ravishing ‘closer’ in the Etonian Wylkynson’s own ‘Salve regina’, which takes the breath away. So, where does the series go from here? There’ll be a long queue of us waiting to find out.

Andrew Green, Early Music Today, December 2014

John Hampton’s Salve regina’ brings some beautifully rich sounds above which the trebles soar … There are many individual solo contributions that deserve praise … There is a beautiful ebb and flow creating a glorious sound.

There is a forthright, richly blended opening to Edmund Turges’ ‘Gaude flore virginali’ before some very fine, accurate singing from a smaller ensemble of voices weaving a terrific sound. Turges calls on some intricate, exceptionally difficult passages which this choir performs magnificently.

Richard Fawkyner’s ‘Gaude virgo salute’ brings a lighter sound, more transparent, soon giving way to an exquisite blend of solo treble and a small group of adult voices. This treble really is terrific as are the small vocal ensemble. … the choir provides some truly magnificent sounds.

‘O mater venerabilis’ has a richly blended opening before a smaller group … lead on. When the full choir join they bring a beautifully blended sound … Stephen Darlington know just how to get his choir to reveal the many subtleties of this music.

The choir opens Robert Wylkynson’s ‘Salve regina’ before the choristers come in over the top in a lovely opening to this setting … The choir’s rich voiced soloists come together at ‘exaudi preces’, treble Binath Philomin again provides a fine solo with the other soloists weaving some very fine sounds. When the whole choir re-enter, what a fine sound they make, a glorious tapestry of sound.

The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford under their Director, Stephen Darlington, is surely one of our finest choirs, be it cathedral, collegiate, or specialist.

Bruce Reader, The Classical Reviewer, 21 November 2014

This third helping of Eton Choirbook music will gladden all those interested in this fascinating repertory. The commitment shown to this series by both label and performers alike is anyway remarkable in these straitened times. Moreover, it has contributed to the discography in two important respects: first, by almost single handedly championing the performances of this repertory with boy trebles, the voice-type for which the treble parts were composed; and second, by focusing more than any earlier ensemble on previously unrecorded pieces. This is not merely a matter of ‘filling in the gaps’. It was more difficult to evaluate the major Eton figures (chiefly Browne, Lambe, Davy) when the music of their lesser-known colleagues was accessible only on paper; besides, Darlington’s selection is of such quality that the gap between major and minor figures is rather narrower than I, for one, had supposed. A case in point is Fawkyner, whose entire surviving output (all of two pieces) can now be heard thanks to this series.

The stamina shown by the trebles is at all times remarkable … the balance between intricate detail and overall sonority is very well rendered.

Fabrice Fitch, Gramophone, December 2014

For nearly 30 years, Dr Stephen Darlington has continued the fine tradition of glorious singing which has been circulating in and around the walls of Christ Church for almost 500 years.

The version [of ‘Salve Regina’] for five voices penned by Robert Wylkynson is expressed with soaring, angelic lines.

Embedded within the ‘Gaude virgo salutata’ we hear the pristine reaches of chorister Binath Philomin…This Fawkyner piece…is rendered magical by the Choir of Christ Church. Vocal parts blend effortlessly.

Darlington and his ensemble are extraordinary.

Christie Grimstad, The Classical Music Network, 31 October 2014

The third recording in this excellent series from this important and spectacular manuscript has all the virtues of the previous volumes: stunningly effective singing from soloists (particularly the superb boy treble, Binath Philomin) and from the full choir, all of whom negotiate the tricky rhythms and intervals of the Eton idiom with complete confidence and musicality; insightful and precise direction by Stephen Darlington; a superbly captured acoustic which is rich in detail but also has an evocative bloom to it; and finally, performances at the correct pitch allowing the attention to fall on the fascinating inner harmonies rather than constantly being unduly drawn to the pyrotechnics of a stratospherically high treble line. We are presented with the music of John Hampton, Edmund Turges, John Fawkyner, John Browne and Robert Wylkynson, composers of outstanding imagination about whom, as the programme notes observe, we know practically nothing – I have proposed elsewhere that several may be Scottish, providing a musical link with the roughly contemporary Scottish school of ornate polyphony exemplified by Robert Carver. In a previous review I commented that these performances by a superb all-male choir are undoubtedly the nearest we will come in modern times to the sound the Eton masters had in their heads as they composed, and listening to this extraordinarily consistent account of extended and demanding pieces I am reminded that the only real difference is the larger number of smaller voices required nowadays to populate the treble line, in contrast to the fewer, more mature voice of the Renaissance treble section. These CDs are a ground-breaking achievement, and I look forward to future revelations as the choir explores further as-yet-unperformed works in the Choirbook.

D. James Ross, Early Music Review, October 2014

The superb Christ Church Cathedral Choir here offer five more works from an unparalleled source of English sacred polyphony from the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

…these rich, graceful, intricate antiphons…are sung with unfailing elegance.

Stephen Pettitt, Sunday Times, 26 October 2014

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John Hampton (1484 – 1521)
1. Salve regina (15:37)
Edmund Turges (1469 – 1508?)
2. Gaude flore virginali (13:43)
John Fawkyner (fl. late 15th century)
3. Gaude virgo salutata (18:49)
John Browne (fl. c. 1480–1505)
4. O mater venerabilis (14:18)
Robert Wylkynson (b. c. 1475–80, d. 1515 or later)
5. Salve regina (13:19)

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USA & Canadian Tour 2014

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This CD, selected from the wealth of music recorded by the choir on the Nimbus label, represents a musical journey, a fitting companion to the physical journey we have made in and around the USA and Canada in 2014. Much of the programme has Christ Church and Oxford connections as a common theme. From Taverner in the sixteenth century, to William Walton in the twentieth century, you will find here a reflection of the glories of the English choral tradition.
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Mathias Let the people praise Thee, O God
2 Taverner O Wilhelme, pastor bone
3 Byrd Ave verum corpus
4-8 Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor
9-11 Handel (arr. Mendelssohn) Acis and Galatea
12 Walton Where does the uttered music go?
13-17 Tippett Five Spirituals from A Child of our Time
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Choirs of Angels: Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol. 2

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Following a critically acclaimed recording of music from the Eton Choirbook, More Divine Than Human (AV2167), The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford returns with a second volume from the vast collection of 15th-century English sacred music, Choirs of Angels. The works range from John Browne’s richly scored eight-part O Maria salvatoris mater, the first piece in the Eton Choirbook, to William Cornysh’s exquisite miniature Ave Maria mater Dei, the choirbook’s shortest work. The compositional range in the Eton Choirbook demands extraordinary virtuosity from its performers, and Stephen Darlington and his choir of men and boys do this glorious music tremendous justice.

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… Christ Church proves again and again that its boys are up to the technical challenges thrown up by the music and it cedes nothing … in the emotional depth of its readings.

… superb tour de force under its insightful and disciplined director …

… the choir sings with unflagging radiance and poise.

International Record Review, September 2013

Clichés mostly exist for a good reason, so if I say that ‘Choirs of Angels’ both begins and ends on a high note you may interpret that as a tribute to the impressive breadth and assurance of these eternally spacious performances of mostly massive works by Browne, Davy, Lambe et al from the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, breathing the rarified atmostphere of late 15th-century polyphony with enviable ease.

Choir & Organ, July-August 2013

We hear relatively rarely the great and challenging repertoire of the 16th-century Eton Choirbook, sung by choirs of men and boys. This second volume of what one hopes will be a long series brings to five antiphons, each by a different composer, an abundant grace, sumptuousness and sense of space, with not a hint of frailty in the upper lines. The eight voice parts of John Browne’s ‘O Maria salvatoris mater’ are trumped by the nine of Robert Wylkynson’s ‘Salve regina’. Richard Davy, William Cornysh and Walter Lambe complete a highly desirable recital.

Sunday Times, 5 May 2013

This disc is so glorious in its sound and effects …

The boys … sound as they always have under Stephen Darlington, singing with confident, healthily open voices that allow them to ascend through phrases and create a gloriously soaring effect, especially in the magnificent acoustics of Merton College chapel … They also manage with admirable maturity the complicated rhythmic decorations and frequent harmonic voltes-faces …

… it is the mighty nine-part Salve regina by Robert Wylkynson that stands out on this disc … it is a great wall of early Renaissance sound right from the first statement of the ‘Salve regina’, which is so tenacious in its focus from beginning to end that it imparts a sense of power that one could only reasonably expect from adults.

Gramophone, June 2013

Hugely appealing…natural, spacious, rich, expressive performances.

The Sunday Times

They do a fantastic job and the soundworld is terrific.

BBC Music Magazine

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Acis and Galatea

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Handel wrote the masque Acis and Galatea in 1718 for the Duke of Chandos to words by John Gay. Like the set of anthems composed at that time for the Duke it required only modest forces – five singers, four of whom sang the solo parts, two woodwind players doubling oboes and recorders, two violins and continuo. His later revisions did not fundamentally alter its scoring even when more performers were involved. Mozart provided additional accompaniments in 1788 for a performance in Vienna. In 1828 Mendelssohn, at that time a student at Berlin University, was asked to make a version for a performance by the Singacademie. It appears that it may not have been used by them and that the first use of it may have been in London in 1869 conducted by Sir Joseph Barnby. Novello’s vocal scores from that period offer orchestral parts for sale of both Mozart’s and Mendelssohn’s versions, as well as the composer’s original scoring but performances of Mendelssohn’s version seem to have been rare.

In arranging the work Mendelssohn added a viola part and parts for woodwind and brass, in part simply filling in the continuo harmonies. However, like Mozart, he went further than that and rewrote, shortened, occasionally extended and more often omitted numbers. “Hush, ye pretty warbling choir” is subject to a simplification of the figuration as well as additional woodwind lines. “Happy we” is extended, and in several numbers the second violins are given an independent line. Mendelssohn wrote for performance in German but the original English text is used in this recording.

The present recording is described by the conductor as “a true Oxford project”, with performers drawn from that city and making use of the arranger’s manuscript now in the Bodleian Library. In a word, it is magical. There is a freshness about this performance which is wholly enchanting. The bass line is kept firm but light, a crucial requirement in Handel, and rhythms bounce along, avoiding any of the kind of heaviness fatal to the music. The soloists are well chosen, all characterising well, especially Brindley Sherratt as Polyphemus. The choir are admirable, even if their pronunciation in “Oh the pleasure of the plains” suggests that they are particularly well bred shepherds. This actually adds to the listener’s pleasure in stressing the delicious artificiality of the whole work. I have not heard the Oxford Philomusica before. They are apparently a professional orchestra based in Oxford, and as heard here they deserve a much wider audience.

Nimbus have done all in their hands that is necessary for the listener’s pleasure by providing a model booklet, with a lengthy essay by Peter Ward Jones, the complete English text and good notes about the performers. With Mendelssohn’s help they manage to get it all on a single disc. Obviously this disc supplements rather than replaces versions of Handel’s original, but as a change for the listener and as a delightful work in its own right this is one of the most enjoyable recordings I have heard for a long time.

John Sheppard

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I much enjoyed this performance. The recording made in the church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford is excellent and there are notes and full texts.

Purists may only look to Handel’s original of which there are a number of recordings. However, to do so is to deprive oneself of some fine music making in what is after all a historical part of Handel performance practice albeit by another generation.

theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.com

Supplements rather than replaces the original but a delightful work in its own right. One of the most enjoyable recordings I have heard for a long time.

musicweb-international.com

You might know Mozart’s respray of Messiah but Mendelssohn’s Acis and Galatea? This is an attentive performance of an intriguing curiosity.

BBC Music Magazine, Christmas Edition 2012

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Treasures of Christ Church

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Treasures of Christ Church is a newly recorded, special collection spanning 500 years of English choral music performed from original manuscripts, uncovering the unique history of music at Christ Church, Oxford. All of the composers on Treasures had an association with Christ Church (whose hallowed halls were famously seen in the Harry Potter films), stretching back to the tenure of John Taverner, through Tallis, Handel, Purcell and Byrd to present day world premiere recordings of works by John Rutter and Howard Goodall.

The history: John Taverner, the most outstanding English composer of his time, was appointed Informator Choristarum of Cardinal College, Oxford in 1526, with the brief of establishing the foremost choral institution in the country. He succeeded magnificently and the tradition continues to this day at what is now known as Christ Church, Oxford. The Choir maintains a special and distinctive place within the great English choral tradition, with an unbroken, continuous tradition of glorious music-making for over five hundred years. Today the choir is renowned for its vibrant sound and artistic versatility, qualities that have been praised throughout the world.

ABOUT THE TREASURES OF CHRIST CHURCH
George Frideric Handel (1685-1659) Zadok the priest
The great German composer spent most of his working life in England. In 1733 he performed Acis and Galatea in Christ Church Hall. The manuscript of his organ arrangement of the orchestral accompaniment to the Coronation anthem Zadok the Priest dates from the 1760s and is in the College Library.

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A varied recital, beautifully sung by one of the finest Oxbridge college choirs.

Sunday Times (Culture), January 2012

… consistently outstanding performances under the committed direction of Stephen Darlington … The overall sound of the choir has an unforced elegance with a seamless legato: a delight to listen to …

A very enjoyable CD, thanks to the rewarding choice of music and the magnificent performances of all the singers and instrumentalists; a recording to treasure.

Gramophone Magazine, December 2011

They perform with refinement and distinction throughout, the articulation precise, the harmonic integration letter perfect. The singing is a pleasure to the ear.

Classical Candor

A splendidly recorded and packaged snapshot of a great choral institution still going as strongly as ever.

BBC Music Magazine, November 2011

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William Walton (1902-1983) Set me as a seal
William Walton was a boy chorister in the Choir at Christ Church from 1912 and entered the College as an undergraduate in 1918.

Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585) Salvator mundi
Thomas Tallis collaborated with William Byrd on a collection of motets called Cantiones sacrae. Salvator mundi was part of this collection and is in the Baldwin part-books dating from the late 16th Century which are in the College Library.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) O God thou art my God
Purcell was organist at Westminster Abbey. This anthem exists in a manuscript copy made in the 1740s by the composer William Walond, and is in the College Library.

Robert Parsons (c1530-1570) Ave Maria
Parsons was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1563. As a composer he was an important precursor of William Byrd. Ave Maria comes from the Dow part-books which date from the 16th Century, and are in the College Library.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Shepherd’s Carol
Words by W H Auden (1907-1973)
The poet W H Auden was an undergraduate at Christ Church, reading English Literature. He was a devoted member of the College and it influenced deeply throughout his life. Benjamin Britten’s setting of A Shepherd’s Carol was written for a BBC radio production entitled ‘A Poet’s Christmas’.

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) Like as the hart
dedicated to Thomas Armstrong (1898-1994)
Thomas Armstrong was the dedicatee of Howells’ setting of verses from Psalm 42. Armstrong was Organist and Choirmaster at Christ Church from 1955-1968 before becoming Principal of the Royal Academy of Music.

John Tavener (b.1944) The Lord’s prayer (from Orthodox Liturgy)
John Tavener is a British composer best known for his religious and minimal works. His setting of the Orthodox Liturgy was composed for Christ Church Cathedral Choir in 1984.

John Taverner (c1490-1545) Christe Jesu, with the Elizabeth text as in Christ Church source
Taverner was the first Director of Music at Cardinal College (now Christ Church) Oxford in 1526. Christe Jesu was sung daily in the College Chapel. This particular edition includes an invocation for the protection of Queen Elizabeth I, so is an adaptation of the original version. The manuscript comes from the Baldwin part-books dating from the latter part of the 16th Century. These are in the College Library.

Francis Grier (b.1955) My breath lies quiet
Francis Grier was Director of Music at Christ Church from 1981-1985. His oratorio ‘Around the Curve of the World’ was commissioned for Christ Church Cathedral Choir and first performed in the year 2000. ‘My breath lies quiet at the door of my mouth’ is one of three short psalm settings in the work.

Peter Warlock (1894-1930) Bethlehem Down
Peter Warlock is best known as a consummate composer of carols and songs although he wrote a great deal of other music. He was an undergraduate at Christ Church in 1913/1914.

John Rutter (b.1945) Canticle of the Heavenly City
John Rutter is one of the most successful contemporary composers of sacred choral music. The Canticle of the Heavenly City was written for the parish church at Iffley in Oxford. The church is under the patronage of Christ Church, hence the connection.

William Byrd (1543-1623) O Lord make thy servant Elizabeth
William Byrd was the greatest of the Elizabethan composers. The anthem O Lord make thy servant Elizabeth is in a manuscript organ-book dating from around 1640. The volume from which it comes is in the College Library.

Stephen Darlington (b.1952) Jacob’s Ladder
Stephen Darlington has been Director of Music at Christ Church since 1985. This arrangement of the carol Jacob’s Ladder was written for performance in the Cathedral in 1992.

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) Great Lord of Lords
Orlando Gibbons was born in Oxford and received his Doctor of Music in Oxford in 1622. The manuscript-score anthem book dates from the 1620s and contains an early version of this anthem, which is in the College Library.

Howard Goodall (b.1958) Veni, sancte spiritus
Howard Goodall studied Music at Christ Church as an undergraduate. Over the years he has composed a huge amount of music for Christ Church Cathedral Choir. Veni, sancte spiritus was commissioned for the annual meeting of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in 2008.

Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623) Hosanna
Thomas Weelkes was one of the outstanding composers of the Jacobean period. His setting of Hosanna to the Son of David is in manuscript in a set of five part-books dating from around 1620 in the College Library.

Digital Bonus Track:
Purcell Thou knowest Lord
An anthem from the burial service written for the funeral of Queen Mary II in 1695. It is in a printed manuscript dating from the period in the College Library.

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More Divine Than Human

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The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral under their director Stephen Darlington, return to AVIE with their second release for the label. Recorded in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, it commemorates the 500th Anniversary of the coronation of King Henry VIII on June 24 1509 with music from the Eton Choirbook, one of the greatest jewels of choir music in the world.

The Eton Choirbook epitomises a style of composition which demanded extraordinary virtuosity from its performers: it is no surprise that an Italian visitor should have described the singing he heard in 1515 as ‘more divine than human’. This recording brings to life some of the most glorious music in the collection, using the original forces of men and boys.

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It’s rare for choirboys to project long lines so securely and with such authority. The choir as a whole works excellently, and the recording boasts a startling presence.

Gramophone Magazine, August 2013

… includes some of the finest treble singing I’ve heard in this repertory. Alongside favourites such as Browne’s ‘Stabat mater’ … it includes rarely heard pieces, notably Lambe’s ‘Magnificat’ and John Fawkyner’s ‘Gaude rosa sine spina’, reminiscent of Browne in its melodic inspiration. Perhaps the best interpretation is of Davy’s ‘In honore summe matris’, one of his finest works, in which the reduced sections show off some fine solo singing. The closeness of the sound recording gives it an almost eerie presence, but is also most involving.

Gramophone Mazazine, August 2013

What makes this disc entrancingly fresh is its use of boy choristers: their translucence as a choir, their colours as soloists, and their easy swing through florid passages inject lightness into the choir book’s dense compositions … Stephen Darlington masterfully paragraphs these monumental pieces through the careful pacing of his dynamics … This is a stellar recording.

BBC Music Magazine

The Eton Choirbook ranks among the most difficult music composed to be sung by children, namely the boy trebles of the countless choral foundations that dotted the British Isles in the late Middle Ages. In the last year or so, a concentrated group of recordings has appeared from some of the most renowned of those choral foundations … This latest is very impressive, and I cannot recommend it too highly. The trebles here excel, both as soloists and, just as remarkably, when several sing together on the same line … The sound recording is both close enough to capture details and atmospheric enough to flatter the ear. Dare we hope for more of this, while these young voices are still in their prime?

Gramophone Magazine, 2009

The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford … sing without once betraying the technical difficulties of these intricate musical jigsaws, instead giving natural, spacious, rich, expressive performances.

Sunday Times

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