Gabriel Jackson is not shy of velvety hamonies. His idiom is intensely ravishing, sometimes to the point of saturation. His music has been well served on Hyperion Records by Polyphony's diaphanous 2009 disc Not No Faceless Angel, but this new recording with the State Choir Latvija conducted by Māris Sirmais is a much punchier affair. Rather than generating a beautiful haze, Sirmais throws a dazzling sunlight on Jackson's music.
'The Voice of the Bard', a 2007 setting of William Blake's poem, offers the first shock of dawn. The singers are in total command of Jackson's virtuosic writing here, though no less able to weave a more muted response in 'Now I have known, O Lord.' The combination of that strident full-voiced sound, complete with winning vibrato, and a muter but clarified hum is very exciting. It stops the colours from cloying and, in the Gloria of Jackson's Missa Triueriensis, really keeps the listener guessing.
The State Choir Latvija doesn't quite have the cleanliness of Stephen Layton's Polyphony and occasionally individual entries could have done with one more definitive take. But what the choir lacks in absolute pin-point precision it more than compensated by its sound. And perhaps the greatest showcase of that strength is the 40-part Tallis tribute 'Sanctum est verum lumen'.
The disc has been beautifully shaped, so the dazzle of the All Saints antiphon 'Angeli, archangeli' is followed by the cloudier mysteries of the 2009 work 'A ship with unfurled sails'. If I'm less convinced by the combination of electric guitar and choir in 'Ave regina caelorum', it is brilliantly served by these singers.