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Music can have an extraordinary power of comfort at times of grief and loss, in a way that is hard to match through the spoken or written word. This beautiful collection from Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort offers an exceptional demonstration of that quality. It's a mixture of choral works from renaissance and more recent times - more of the latter than the former, in fact - written, as the disc's subtitle indicates, for mourning and consolation. In some cases an older piece is paired with a modern work on a related text or theme. So, for example, the wonderful opening "Drop, drop, slow tears" by Orlando Gibbons is followed by William Walton's piece to the same text; and, later on, John Sheppard's equally moving "In manus tuas" is paired with Jonathan Dove's "Into thy hands". Here and elsewhere on the disc, the sequence and the seamless juxtaposition of pieces from different periods work most beautifully.

The most substantial work on the disc is Herbert Howells' Requiem. Here and throughout the programme, the Gabrieli Consort's choral tone is superbly balanced and the singing is heartfelt, delicate, sensitively phrased - clearly every word and its meaning matter to these singers. Although I tend to listen mostly to renaissance and baroque music, and so felt a particular affinity with those earlier works in the programme, I also found James MacMillan's "A Child's Prayer" especially moving. This was written to commemorate the Dunblane massacre in 1996, when sixteen Scottish primary school children and their teacher were killed by a gunman; and in the childlike conception of its music and text it strongly reminded me of a poem written by a young friend in response to that terrible event (" ..... I can still see me, down there on the floor, / But I don't belong to me anymore." - from "Dunblane Angel" by Mhairi Jarvie). MacMillan's piece is movingly sung here by the choir and two solo sopranos, Kirsty Hopkins and Amy Moore.

Altogether, then, this is wonderful choral singing of a programme of music for consolation in death, and one which cannot fail to move the listener. The recording too, in the marvellous acoustic of the Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral, is irresistibly involving. Paul McCreesh's direction is superb, and his deeply reflective comments in the booklet add the final touch to this profoundly affecting choral programme.
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on 12 March 2012
Simply stunning. That pretty much says it all - rarely do you come across a disc full of warmth, magic and beauty. Recorded in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral with its resonant acoustic, Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort have come up with a real treat for the ear. The centre piece of the album is the Requiem by Herbert Howells which is by far the most moving performance of this work that I have heard. It is a beautiful interpretation of an extremely deep and powerful work. Also featured are two settings of 'Drop, Drop, Slow Tears' by Orlando Gibbons and William Walton. Songs of Farewell is a collection of wonderful music by composers from Gibbons to Dove, all of whom have something in common - the ability to craft music for mourning and consolation with such emotion and conviction. Rarely does an album capture the emotion of such music leaving the listener having witnessed something of an experience. Enjoy.
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VINE VOICEon 2 April 2012
I don't know about you, but what with all these 'Farewell' discs being released recently (Hubert Parry: Songs of Farewell), it's a wonder there's anyone left to turn the lights out. I really quite like the Tenebrae disc, and I do like a lot of the tracks on this album, but it's up against some stiff competition if Paul McCreesh wants to prise the cash out of my wallet. There's a new disc of Howells' music, with the Requiem as its centrepiece out Howells: Requiem (Hyperion: CDA67914) this month, so it's interesting to compare the two.

What's interesting is to start with the similarities: both Requiems were recorded in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral, which offers a lovely acoustic; secondly, both are choirs of mixed voices, not boys and men; lastly, the conductors are real superstar material, with lots of impressive names on their CV's. Leighton's choir is relatively large at 40 singers (by my count), whereas the Gabrieli Consort is much smaller; hence, the Trinity choir always seem to be singing within themselves, like driving a car with a big engine at low speed - there's a sense of deliberately keeping the revs low. That said, the Gabrieli Consort never really let rip, either - perhaps they're a little too close-miked. The reverberant acoustic allows for all sorts of lovely legato effects, really milking Howells' juicy harmonies, but I feel like this comes at the cost of singers really singing. All the recordings I have with Stephen Leighton in charge are defined by incredible control, blend and clarity, yet I quite often find them just a bit precious, the vowels too micro-managed for my taste. Sadly, I get a similar impression from the Gabrieli Consort here; perhaps because the singers don't have to do any work to get the building to respond so they rely on gorgeous, glossy textures, rather than real vocal engagement. There is one clear area of difference, in that McCreesh's soloists are all a notch better than Leighton's but then you'd expect that, given the age and experience differences. In the end, the two accounts are pretty close to one another, with only the softer, rounder sound of the Trinity choir to tell them apart.

In the end, if you want a recording of Howells' Requiem, you'd be happy with either of these, and your choice of disc largely depends on which extra material you want. I like many of the works on the Gabrieli disc, but I think I'd find myself going back to the other works by Howells ('Take him, earth', Gloucester and St Pauls services et al) on the Trinity disc, although I do just about prefer the sound quality of the McCreesh recording. In the end, I must admit I never really warmed to either that much.
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on 8 May 2012
Purchased on the strength of McCreesh's recent Grande Messe, even though the repertoire on this new disc would not normally attract me. As with the Berlioz, this is superbly well recorded. I find many a cappella recordings unlistenable - some producers seem to place the choir at the opposite end of the chapel to the microphones and even then add gallons of reverb. But this recording sounds natural. There is space, but it is still intimate, suiting the personal nature of the music. Very much wish that the Winged Lion label would release SACD.
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