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The Tree of Life
The Trinity Choir/Daniel Taylor
rec.16-18 August 2016, St Alban the Martyr, London.
Texts and English translations included
SONY CLASSICAL 88985387302 [56:01]

Back in 2016 I reviewed Four Thousand Winter, which I think was the debut disc by Daniel Taylor and his hand-picked choir. History has repeated itself in that this, their follow-up, which has much to do with Advent and Christmas, did not reach me until well into January. Perhaps that’s not surprising since the sessions took place only in mid-August, virtually a year to the day since the previous album was recorded; that didn’t give Sony long to get the disc out before Christmas. Taylor and his small choir have returned to the same venue to record a similarly-constructed programme. Moreover, the concept behind the programme is not dissimilar, combining music that is suitable for Advent, Christmas and the Winter Solstice.

This time the spine of the programme consists of Arvo Pärt’s German settings of the seven ‘Great O’ Advent antiphons. Sensibly, these have been dispersed in three groups. All seven are expertly done, the singers doing full justice to the range of expression that differentiates the pieces from each other in response to the moods of the various texts. In O Weisheit the singing is beautifully calibrated while O Adonai is darkly mysterious. O Morgenstern is my own favourite amongst the set; I love the thoughtful nature of the music and here Taylor’s ensemble suffuses it with gentle radiance. In the last of the set, O Immanuel, the growing fervour and excitement in Pärt’s music comes across really convincingly. In the middle of the piece the text is declaimed in loud full-choir chords. At this point not only is the sound of the choir absolutely thrilling but also the singing resonates and echoes marvellously in the fine acoustic of the church of St Alban the Martyr.

There are two pieces of Renaissance polyphony in the programme and the choices are discerning. Mouton’s Nesciens mater is one of the most beautiful of all such pieces and here it receives a serene performance, the voices blending magically. Furthermore, the natural resonance of the venue adds a lovely patina to the sound. It’s not often that I use the word sublime in a review but it’s justified here. Equally successful is the performance of Robert Parsons’ Ave Maria. This is an exquisite composition and it’s beautifully sung.

Modern music fares just as well. In addition to the expert Pärt performances, including the hesitant devotion that characterises The Deer’s Cry, there are pieces by Britten and Tavener. Hymn to the Virgin is expressively sung and the ecstatic, slow-moving double canon that is Hymn to the Mother of God is suitably rapt, the singers displaying superb control in Tavener’s long lines. The Lamb is intelligently placed in the programme: its spare textures prove an admirable foil to the richness of the preceding Mouton piece. Poston’s Jesus Christ the Apple Tree is beautifully sung though I wonder if it’s taken just a fraction too slowly and the music moulded a bit too consciously.

Three plainchant settings are included. Puer natus est and Salvator mundi are each sung by a solo tenor, respectively Jeremy Budd and Charles Daniels. Well though both of them sing my own preference is to hear such music sung by a unison group after the incipit. The concluding Veni, veni, Emmanuel, however, is sung by groups of singers with pairs of verses allocated to either the ladies or the gentlemen. Incidentally, Puer natus est is preceded by the sound of church bells, which is a nice way to establish an atmosphere.

It’s a joy to hear music such as this sung by so expert a consort of singers: the Trinity Choir numbers 24 (8/6/4/6). Every aspect of the singing – tuning, blend, diction and purity of tone - is flawless. They have been most sympathetically recorded in a lovely acoustic by producer Nicholas Parker and engineer Andrew Mellor.

This project is quite clearly a labour of love for Daniel Taylor. That comes out in his selection of music and the way in which he directs it. He also contributes detailed notes. However, I should sound a word of warning: the notes – and, indeed, the rest of the booklet – have been printed in a minute and rather light font and it is no exaggeration to say that I found it a real trial to read the contents of the booklet without eye strain. I hope this design feature will be improved for the Trinity Choir’s next album.

John Quinn
 

Disc contents
Anonymous
Puer natus est
[1:20]
Arvo PÄRT (b 1935)
Seven Magnificat Antiphons: O Weisheit [1:45]; O Adonai [2:35]
Jean MOUTON (1459-1522)
Nesciens mater [5:40]
Sir John TAVENER (1944-2013)
The Lamb [3:45]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Hymn to the Virgin [3:50]
Arvo PÄRT
O Spross
[1:10]
O Schüssel
[1:55]
O Morgenstern
[1:40]
The Deer’s Cry
[4:10]
Elizabeth POSTON (1905-1987)
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree [3:45]
Anonymous
Salvator mundi
[3:00]
Robert PARSONS (1536-1572)
Ave Maria [4:55]
Arvo PÄRT
O König
[2:05]
O Immanuel
[2:15]
Sir John TAVENER
Hymn to the Mother of God
[3:30]
Anonymous
Veni, veni, Emmanuel
[4:10]

 

 




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