I am a huge fan of Renaissance choral music, as well as the sound of men and boys' choirs, so when I saw this CD in the store I had great hopes that I would like it. And I do--but there are some flaws that I should point out.
THE WEAKNESSES: The choir as a whole has a tendency to slightly drop in pitch as a song progresses, something which may bother listeners with a trained ear. In addition, there are more than a few moments throughout the recording where one or more section of the choir goes flat, and the result is that the harmony gets slightly off in places--not quite clean. The treble soloist in Allegri's "Miserere Mei", for example, tends to go a little flat during his solo, not on the high note but on the notes surrounding it. Anyone with a sensitive ear will notice this pattern and it is the biggest detraction from the recording as a whole and the reason I cannot give it five stars. It also makes the group as a whole sound slightly less than professional. Another weakness to this recording is the tempo chosen for two of the songs. "Miserere Mei" is performed faster than I have ever heard it (indeed, too fast if you ask me, especially during the mens' unison part). It just does not have that stirring, reflective quality that slower recordings bring to the piece. On the other hand, Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus" is performed a little too slowly in my opinion, although it is one of the more "together" pieces on the CD. In general, I feel this choir sounds better when they sing at a more upbeat tempo--they stay in tune better--and so I felt that too many of their songs were a little too slow. Lastly, the CD only offers 45 minutes of music, and I would have appreciated a bit more.
But after reading about all these significant weaknesses, don't give up on this CD just yet! There are some strengths, too!
THE STRENGTHS: For one, this is a French choir, and has an entirely different sound from a traditional cathedral-based English or American choir. Unlike English-style men and boys' choirs, where men comprise the bass, tenor, and contralto sections, this French group has boys as both sopranos and altos, and men only as tenors and basses. This lead to a very different overall sound, and one that I happen to like--although I find it difficult to find words to describe exactly what I mean. Suffice it to say this is a relatively unusual arrangement and produces a unique sound that you may find, as I do, pleasing. To give credit to the young soloist in "Miserere Mei", although he goes flat in places, he does have a very pretty and sweet voice, and the fact that it sounds slightly untrained almost adds to its sweetness in a way (if you look at the up side of things).
The selection of music is also very good, and if you like Renaissance choral music, you will enjoy the pieces presented here. The composers range from Vittoria to Palestrina to Antonio Lotti, and the pieces are mainly motets. Despite the choir's lack of perfection, they do have a very nice sound and sing some of the loveliest choral music of the 16th and 17th centuries.
OVERALL: This is a recording with many flaws, but nonetheless may be a worthwhile purchase for some who likes the style of music and wants to hear the unusual sound of this continental men and boys' choir. I would recommend it to you if you fit into that category. If you are, however, simply looking to hear a good men and boys' choir, then I would recommend you pass this one up and consider, instead, choirs such as King's College Choir, Cambridge (UK), St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, London (UK), or the sometimes overlooked but absolutely wonderful St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, New York (USA). Recordings from all of these choirs can be found on Amazon.com.
And if you are simply looking for a good recording of Allegri's Miserere, then do indeed look elsewhere--St. Paul's Cathedral Choir has a much better recording, with Jeremy Budd as the treble soloist, and there is also a classic 1962 King's College Choir version with Roy Goodman as the soloist, which is lovely.