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Reviews Written by
William Burn "gingerburn" (Nottingham, UK)

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Faure: Requiem
Faure: Requiem
Price: £7.95

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and beautiful disc, 16 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Faure: Requiem (Audio CD)
I like pretty much everything Tenebrae has recorded (with the exception, perhaps of their rather tedious Paul Mealor disc ( Paul Mealor - Selections From A Tender Light SATB (Satb Chorus)), but this is something really quite special. The disc falls into two stylistically distinct parts, yet there are strong intellectual links between them which make the whole disc more rewarding even than the sum of its excellent parts.

The first part of the CD consists of a programme of Bach chorales and the violin Partita No.2 in d, performed by Gordan Nikolitch. This brings to life academic research conducted by Professor Helga Thoene, who argues that the underlying harmonic structure, as well as melodic devices of the partitas, can be shown to be based on the harmonic structure of Bach's chorale harmonisations, making the music not only a beautiful expression of pure melody, but also a spiritual meditation on the chorales themselves. The Hilliard Ensemble's Morimur was, I believe, the first disc to present her work, but the attraction of this CD is that you don't have the Hilliard's 'distinctive' tone to contend with (unless you like that sort of thing). Here, you have Tenebrae's musical, passionate and beautiful sound, and Nikolitch's excellent violin playing. To my mind, the 13 minute Ciaconna with Chorale Interpolations is worth the price alone.

But that's not all. The Faure may be much better known, but this is an outstanding recording of the work. The orchestral playing is fabulous, the small forces perfectly balanced with the organ, and the choir is in utterly compelling voice. Will Gaunt does a fine job of the Hostias and Libera Me, and Grace Davidson offers a beautiful soprano solo in the Pie Jesu. Granted, there may be recordings which excel in individual areas, but I can't think of one which offers so much in one package. Very highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2014 9:53 PM BST

Serenity -  The Beauty Of Arvo Pärt
Serenity - The Beauty Of Arvo Pärt
Price: £9.85

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to the master, 3 Sept. 2012
Any compilation will always come under fire for what it omits as much as it receives praise for what it contains, but I've never liked this habit of reviewers. Hence, this review will be pretty simple: if you're looking for an approachable, but high-quality overview of Arvo Pärt's music, this is an ideal place to start. The selection covers three decades of his composition, from the early Spiegel-im-Spiegel to more recent works such as 'The Woman with the Alabaster Box'. All are performed by first-rate ensembles (Tenebrae, the Göteborg Symphony Orchestra, Tonus Peregrinus, amongst others).

It's fair to say, if you're looking for a richly varied programme, this may not be the disc for you, but Pärt is the master of making very beautiful music out of simple materials, deeply expressive in when setting words, and peerless in creating orchestral textures. In all, a thoroughly enjoyable disc. If you like it, and want to hear more, try some of the recordings Paul Hillier has made with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir for Harmonia Mundi, which to my mind are the finest interpretations of Pärt's choral music Pärt - Da Pacem.

Dragon Slayer
Dragon Slayer
Offered by itembazaar Euro
Price: £14.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Well produced, varied and a satisfying listen, 15 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Dragon Slayer (Audio CD)
I like this album. For a rap album, the range of moods and styles is satisfyingly broad, from the laid-back psychedelia of 'Dude it's on' to the blues of 'Rock Bottom Again' and the double-time slickness of 'Excuse Me.' It keeps me coming back, and the production is good enough to make it worth listening to on the proper hi-fi at home, not just on headphones - I think it's down to the live samples used, which have a bit more air and space around them in the mix. In the end, though, it's the witty self-deprecation of 'So Gangster' that I keep coming back to; if only more rappers could take a wry look at themselves once in a while!

Rogier: Music from the Missae Sex
Rogier: Music from the Missae Sex
Price: £15.80

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite as fine as the first in the series, 13 Jun. 2012
I cannot hope to write a review anywhere near as comprehensive or detailed as that on this page by Stephen Midgley, and if you're looking for a reason to buy this disc, you cannot fault him. I will say this, though: if you're looking for an introduction to the music of Philippe Rogier, I would start with Magnificat's recording of Philippe Rogier Missa Ego Sum, the first in this little series of three, which, to my mind, presents a more interesting selection of music. The 'Inclita stirps Jesse' mass is lovely, but not as fine as 'Ego sum qui sum', which is driven by more powerful harmonic movement and some fabulous writing in the Agnus Dei. Moreover, the motets on the earlier CD make for much more compelling listening than those presented here (which are entirely instrumental, and hence you miss Rogier's great gift for setting words).

Lastly, I don't think the singing on this disc is quite as good as the singing on the 'Ego sum qui sum' CD. The singing there seems more direct, more passionate and keenly felt than the performances here.

For all that, the recorded sound is better on this CD, losing the slightly veiled sound of the earlier recording. In the end, though, it's the brilliantly expressive motets of the 'Ego sum qui sum' disc which will keep me coming back more regularly than the noble masses presented here.

Durufle; Radcliffe; Ley; Stanford; Byrd: The Feast of Saint Peter The Apostle At Westminster Abbey
Durufle; Radcliffe; Ley; Stanford; Byrd: The Feast of Saint Peter The Apostle At Westminster Abbey
Price: £13.86

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A generous mixed selection, with some thrilling moments, 7 Jun. 2012
There's a great concept at work in this disc - it's a sort of 'day in the life' of Westminster Abbey, presenting the music from three services which you might hear if you were to visit on the feast day of the Abbey's patron saint, St Peter. And a right treat you'd be in for, too - take a thermos and some sandwiches, as you won't want to leave. It's a richly diverse programme, including Byrd's Mass for Five Voices, some Palestrina ('Tu es Petrus', natch), a healthy dollop of Stanford (Morning and Evening services in Bb) and, to top it all off, Walton's 'The Twelve'. Granted, not all the music is of equal quality (you're not going to rush back to listen to Radcliffe's Preces and Responses every day, no matter how fine an example of the genre they are), and the psalms do what psalms do, though they are immaculately sung.

The highlights are definitely worth it, though - the Byrd is just lovely, and you get the impression they are singing it from memory; it's in their blood, this stuff. The Walton is thrilling, with fantastic solo contributions, and Robert Quinney's organ playing is as good as you'd expect from one of Britain's most gifted musicians. The Byrd really should be regarded as a particular masterpiece of choral singing: O'Donnell proves beyond doubt that a choir of men and boys can give an utterly compelling reading of Renaissance polyphony, in many ways more exciting and engaging than the cleaner 'choral-scholar' sound of ensembles such as The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars et al.

I reckon this is a bit of a cracker. The recording is spot on - you get a powerful sense of the Abbey's beautiful acoustic, but never at the expense of musical and textual clarity. Go on, treat yourself, and don't forget your sandwiches.

Arias For Guadagni [Hyperion: CDA67924]
Arias For Guadagni [Hyperion: CDA67924]
Price: £13.53

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poised and very beautiful, 7 Jun. 2012
A recent purchase, and from the outset it made a very favourable impression which has only improved with time. Iestyn Davies is in fine voice, beautifully poised, articulate and musical, in complete command of all aspects of the music, from the meltingly lyrical passages (try the first of the extracts from Gluck's 'Telemaco' for size here) to the athletic fireworks of 'Destructive War' from 'Belshazzar'. The accompaniment is excellent throughout, never threatening to overpower Davies, and coming to the fore in CPE Bach's Symphony in D, which is offered as a well-placed variation from the vocal works. The recording is lovely, crystal clear and with a lovely sense of space around the sound. Definitely worth your pennies, this.

A Song of Farewell: Music of Mourning & Consolation
A Song of Farewell: Music of Mourning & Consolation
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £11.78

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Last one out, please switch off the lights, 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.

Winterreise [Paladino: PMR0018]
Winterreise [Paladino: PMR0018]
Price: £18.08

4.0 out of 5 stars One for the connoisseur, 20 Feb. 2012
This is an interesting one, and not, probably, the place most of us would - or ought to, for that matter - start if you're a newcomer to 'Winterreise' (for that I'd recommend the classic Schubert: Winterreise by Fischer-Dieskau or Schubert: Winterreise for a more recent recording by Christian Gerhaher, whom I rate very highly indeed.) Nevertheless, if you already know the work, and your German is up to scratch, this is well worth a listen.

The premise is pretty simple: Martin Rummel, an Austrian cellist, has arranged the work for cello and piano, and has given the words to a speaker, in this case, Xaver Hutter. The effect is striking. I found myself thinking about the poetry in a wholly new way, as, until now, I'd never been able to separate the words from Schubert's melodies, even if I read them out loud. Hutter's voice is keen, at times capricious, humorous, and always deeply insightful into the nuances of the text. Some poems are surprising - 'Wasserflut', for example, begins almost offhandedly, and 'Irrlicht' speaks in the voice of a blase young man. Indeed, youth is characteristic of all of Hutter's performances, and rightly so: we may find him affected, over-enthusiastic at times, but that seems to me to be right for Schubert's wanderer. There are a few moments where the text used diverts from Schubert's alterations to Muller's original (erstorben, rather than erfroren, in Erstarrung) and occasionally a change of word changes the effect of a whole poem - the 'noch' in the last line of 'Im Dorfe' implies a sense of continuation, rather than the separation of the original text. Of all the performances, I found 'Die Post' most beautiful, a nervous, fragile questioning of his heart.

Rummel's playing is fine throughout, warm, sinuous in tone, and richly expressive, and it is a wonderful thing just to listen to the melodies which make this such a fine work. Always, though, I hear the words with the music, and can't help but miss raw vocal power, such as at the climax of 'Wasserflut'. The cello cannot hope to reproduce the subtle colours of a great lieder singer, and I found myself as a listener applying those colours in my own mind.

Is this worth thirty-odd quid, though? I reckon not. The recording is good, nicely spaced and fair to all participants, but thirty notes is an awful lot for this CD. Buy it over at, where even at today's exchange rates, you'll definitely get your money's worth.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 12, 2012 3:55 PM GMT

London Review of Books
London Review of Books
Price: £3.99

55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What the Kindle was made for, 17 Jan. 2012
On paper the London Review of Books is pretty daunting, all tiny text and crinkly A3 pages. That's one of the reasons I like it so much: it sends a very clear signal to everyone else in the room that I don't want to be disturbed, and the lack of pictures makes reading over my shoulder nigh-on impossible. Add to that the rich diet of book reviews, 'op-ed' pieces, and excellent poetry, all written by leading experts in their fields, and you've a real treat every couple of weeks.

And now the Kindle edition appears, and I'm delighted with it. Not only do I have a one-click dictionary to clear up all the words I don't understand (and there are always a few), but it is at last truly transportable and no longer a right chore to read in bed. Great stuff. If only they could solve the problem of other people thinking I'm reading Pam Ayres, and it would be perfect.

A Tender Light
A Tender Light
Offered by westworld-
Price: £9.98

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, but repetitive, 5 Dec. 2011
This review is from: A Tender Light (Audio CD)
I first heard this CD on Spotify, and to be honest, that's where I'm most likely to listen to it again. Ordinarily I'd happily buy pretty much anything that Tenebrae release: they're an excellent choir who perform interesting material to a very high standard. (Check out their disc of English choral music here: Hubert Parry: Songs of Farewell. Yet this CD reveals Mealor to be a bit of a one trick pony, even if that trick is very charming indeed. He has a great gift for producing lovely choral textures, but even during the more exciting moments of the Stabat Mater, these predominate before almost every other aspect of the music. So, while I enjoy individual tracks, I have no great urge to listen to the whole CD.

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