Most helpful positive review
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2007
Being essentially a Bowie-nut, and a decidedly secular one at that, I get quickly out of my depth when it comes to any classical music, let alone sacred choral music, so I am wary about looking like an ass when I review it. But here goes: even with that reservation I declare this record a truly extraordinary, beautiful, haunting listening experience.
Signum Records seem to be doing their best to hide the fact that they're recording and releasing exquisite classical music. Much of Signum's catalogue is available only through their website, which they don't seem to have even submitted to search engines for indexing. Allegri-Miserere is one of the few Signum releases available on Amazon. If you do nothing else, snap it up before Signum decides to hide this one too!
To my way of thinking, there are three aspects a record like this: The quality of the material performed, the quality of its execution by the choir, and the quality of the recording.
In this case, all three are sublime, across the length of the album.
The title track is, of course, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written - so beautiful the Vatican forbade, on pain of excommunication, anyone but its own Sistine Chapel Choir to play it (the story, briefly recounted in the liner notes, of how a young Mozart nicked it from under the Vatican's grasp by memorising it in one sitting is a beauty). While I've heard plenty recordings of the Miserere this one - it is a beautifully crisp recording - reveals the complexity and ornamentation of the vocal lines like no other version I've heard, even as between the tenors and basses positioned at the front of the soundstage (I think the Miserere is structured as a song-and-reply between two small choral groups). The sopranos and altos are positioned at the back of the soundstage, and the famous solo treble line is softened and embedded in a glorious natural reverberation giving it a haunting, solemn quality. When the lead soprano (I was surprised to see there are no boy trebles in the choir, by the way - I know it's not supposed to be the same, but I couldn't tell) hits her high C - and it's high in the stratosphere all right, practically in dogs-only territory - and falls away from it down a major scale it really takes your breath away. I almost fell down an escalator at King's Cross St. Pancras with excitement. And I just love the way Miserere resolves delicately into a major, at the very last. Clever man, that Allegri.
Elsewhere, the repertoire fully spans Tenebrae's stated coverage era of 17th-21st century, from Lotti's beautiful 8 Part Crucifix to the more modern works by Taverner, Ireland, Rachmaninov, Britten and Holst.
Not only is the music beautifully selected and recorded, the performance is just extraordinary in its accuracy and tone, dynamism and control. Though the sopranos steal the limelight in the Miserere, the rich bass and beautifully constant tenors are well to the fore throughout, and kick some righteous heavenly butt on Sheremetriev's Now Ye Heavenly Powers. It's spine-tingling, neck-shivering material, and when the basses hit their final bottom note, as low in the subterranea as the sopranos are high in the Miserere, I fell down the stairs with surprise and delight at East Finchley. Marvellous.
I really couldn't recommend this more highly.