Discos

On the way to Paradise with the Gabrieli Consort

Matthias Range
viernes, 18 de enero de 2008
The Road to Paradise. Thomas Tallis: Miserere nostri; Anon. Chant: Jacet granum, Clangat pastor; Robert Parsons: Ave Maria; Benjamin Britten: A Hymn to the Virgin; William Byrd: Christe qui es lux es et dies; John Sheppard: Media vita in more sumus; Richard Rodney Bennet: A Good-Night; John Tavener: Song for Athene; John Sheppard: In pace in idipsum; Gustav Holst: Nunc dimittis; William Harris: Bring us, O Lord God; Herbert Howells: Take him, Earth, for cherishing; Anon. Chant: In paradisum. Gabrieli Consort, Paul McCreesh, executive producer: Christopher Alder; balance engineer: Neil Hutchinson. One CD, 74’11’’ minutes; recorded July 2006, The Parish Church of S. Alban the Martyr, Holborn, (London); Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 6605
0,0002578

‘What is the way to Paradise?’ is a question of great importance in many religions and cultures around the world. The present CD recording presents its own ‘Road to Paradise’, based on the traditions and culture of Christian Western Europe.

In 2005 John Eliot Gardiner recorded his musical Pilgrimage to Santiago [see the review]; and indeed, Paul McCreesh explains in the notes to his recording that the Road to Paradise CD is also linked to the Santiago pilgrims. The Gabrieli Consort was asked to give a series of concerts along the pilgrim route to Santiago in the same year, 2005, and this appears to have been the initial idea for and basis of the present recording. According to McCreesh in his liner notes (p. 2), the programme on this CD reflects a “central paradox”: the combination of the sorrows and fears of death with the prospect of eternal life in paradise.

According to a little sticker on the CD cover this is “an enlightening and moving musical pilgrimage through the great choral masterpieces of the English tradition”. However, this does by no means imply that the Road to Paradise necessarily has to be an English road. Rather, the programme on the CD aims to follow the route of an English pilgrim. It does this less in a geographical than in a chronological way: apart from two medieval chants, it includes English choral music from five centuries, from Thomas Tallis’s Miserere nostri up to John Tavener’s Song for Athene. It is striking, however, that most pieces are either from the sixteenth or from the twentieth century; there is no item for the period from the late seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, but this fact may perhaps be explained by the very different spiritual perceptions of that period: pilgrimage and mysticism in the Medieval sense were not really issues that concerned composers such as Purcell, Handel or Boyce. Thus in the end, one might suggest one change to the strong claim of the sticker on the CD; this is indeed a ‘musical pilgrimage through some of the great choral masterpieces of the English tradition’.

The pilgrim’s journey on this CD is divided into five ‘parts’: ‘In ora mortis nostrae’, ‘The Pilgrim’s Journey’, ‘Media vita in morte sumus’, ‘Requiem aeternam’, and ‘A Vision of Paradise’, each containing one to four pieces of music. Overall, there is a well-balanced mixture of ‘old’, pre-1700s, and ‘new’, twentieth century music. In fact, the ongoing tension between old and new is one of the strong points of this recording. The central piece of the CD is John Sheppard’s Media vita in morte sumus. Combining plainchant and highly complicated counterpoint over a duration of nearly 20 minutes it is a striking piece; its description as the “Götterdämmerung of the Tudor era” in The Times after a concert by the Gabrieli concert may be a bit far-fetched, but, as McCreesh points out, it “gives some sense of its scale and drama”.

The other pieces on the CD are of similar high quality. Many of them are well-known to English choral singers but not often found on CD, such as Robert Parsons’s Ave Maria or Gustav Holst’s Nunc dimittis. John Tavener’s Song for Athene is famous not least because of its performance at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. On that occasion it was sung (in a slightly modified version of the original composition) at the very end of the service and accompanied the cortège out into the world, for the voyage to its final resting place. However, McCreesh’s recording is of special interest since it was advised by the composer himself who suggested full organ accompaniment at the climax of the piece; and thus, although it lacks the touching atmosphere of the live recording of the 1997 service, this recording is an interesting new interpretation of a well-known piece.

The final piece on this CD, the anonymous chant In paradisum, perfectly marks the end of this Road to Paradise. However, given the total quantity of music on this CD, this work is listed as track number thirteen! This number, a bad omen now as it was in medieval times, would have shocked every medieval pilgrim and does not seem appropriate to mark the reaching of paradise. Indeed, perhaps one could have tried to arrange the last number to be twelve, which was highly loaded with symbolism in Medieval Europe (Twelve Apostles, twelve pearls as the gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem etc.); or even fourteen would have been a better choice (referring to the Fourteen Saints). This may seem a very tiny point of criticism, but in a project with such claims to sophistication one could have paid attention to this detail and could have referred to it in some way: for instance one could have numbered the music independently from the track numbers so that there would simply be twelve numbers to the single number for paradise.

In any case, this is a CD with excellent music. The performance of the Gabrieli Consort is -just as one might expect- of a very high standard. They are familiar with all musical styles, and they are as convincing in Tallis’s Miserere as they are in Herbert Howells’s Take him, Earth, for cherishing. Even though this CD contains just a selection of pieces instead of a complete cycle, it will be a very worthy addition to every collection of English choral music. This is easily seen (or ‘heard’ actually) by direct comparison with other recordings of the same pieces. For instance, there is the very good recording of Sheppard’s Media vita by the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips. However, compared with McCreesh’s recording one cannot help but find the Tallis Scholars’ rendition somewhat less inspired; furthermore, the higher notes of the sopranos on the latter recording are occasionally rather harsh on the ear.

The sound of the Gabrieli Consort, on the other hand, is constantly full, round and ‘warm’, making good use of the fantastic acoustics of the recording location. Even in the fortissimo passages in William Harris’s Bring us, O Lord God the soprano’s top notes do not sound sharp or shrill as in some other recordings. The male singers display great clarity and appropriateness, for instance in the chanted parts in John Sheppard’s In pace in idipsum: there is never a tendency to an operatic tone so often heard by other groups, instead the singers keep it plain and simple, appropriate to the texts and the music.

McCreesh’s liner notes are perhaps a little short at four pages, given the number of pieces on this CD; nevertheless, they serve as a good brief introduction for the listener. The full texts of the music are given in their original (Latin, English, or a mixture of both) with English, French, and German translation, and thus the listener is enabled to reflect upon this musical pilgrimage himself. Finally, McCreesh provides a detailed list of sources and publishers for the music; this is a very welcome feature that should perhaps become standard for every modern first rate recording.

All in all a recommendable CD, full of the right music to listen to on the way to Paradise – if departing from Britain at least!

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