McDowall - Sacred Choral Music - Classical Music Sentinel

I can never resist the urge to listen to a new (older ones as well) recording by the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge led by conductor Stephen Layton. Be it the more traditional sound of Herbert Howells, or more recent works by contemporary composers like David Briggs or Ä’riks Ešenvalds, they always seem to capture and project the essence within the music and the atmosphere it emanates. It’s hard enough for an a cappella choir of over 30 members to blend seamlessly and to remain on pitch over a period of more than two minutes, but the Trinity Choir have not only mastered this, they also seem to ebb and flow, and express minuscule gradations of nuances as one entity. That’s probably why the Gramophone magazine ranks them as the fifth-best choir in the world, oddly enough surpassed by Polyphony, another choir led by Stephen Layton, whose many recordings have been presented with some of the leading industry awards.

Cecilia McDowall (b. 1951) “is a composer whose music constantly tweaks the ear with her range of spicy rhythms and colours, then suddenly produces a highly atmospheric and grippingly expressive interlude which is just as compelling.” {Gramophone} All of the music present on this CD was composed within the last 15 years and yet sounds as if fuelled from a distant past. One of those highly atmospheric and gripping moments comes in the form of O Oriens during which the ear is bathed in total tonal and atonal sunlight running the full spectrum of wondrous harmonic intervals and sonic effects that amaze by their richness of colourful details. And this is where a choir like Trinity College shines and reveals its calibre, rising to a highly dissonant climax, only to recede with a perfectly achieved diminuendo which gradually fades to nothing. Perfectly nuanced, perfectly blended, and most of all satisfyingly sonorous as it slowly dissolves. Musicianship at its most compelling with acoustics to match!

Jean-Yves Duperron

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