Gramophone

The nine voices of Voces Sacrae display consummate musicianship, sensitivity and technical control. Judy Martin avoids any temptation to turn these excellent singers into one of those slickly polished, exaggeratedly precise and oh-so-happy-to-be-singing groups with which British choral music seems to abound, but is content to concentrate on the music itself rather than choral virtuosity for its own sake. The result is a disc of real pleasure both in the quality of the singing and the programme which, perhaps surprisingly for such a small group, suits Voces Sacrae to a tee. For Magnus Williamson’s beautifully taut Missa Tertia they are joined by the eight voices of the choir of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford, and while the added numbers produce an even warmer sound, there is no loss of the intimacy and immaculate ensemble which characterises the entire disc.

David Lefeber’s sympathetic recording further enhances what is already a wonderful sound. Three of these four living British composers have looked to mainland European models rather than domestic tradition in their religious choral music – Michael Berkeley acknowledges a ‘harmonic gaze slightly in the direction of France’ (all the composers have contributed their own commentary), Magnus Williamson’s Mass has echoes of Frank Martin – although the restrained ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ which concludes the Benedictus and the climactic Agnus Dei give this work real originality – and, especially in his magical O sacrum convivium, Gabriel Jackson has veered more towards eastern Europe and Arvo Pärt than the more obvious example of Messiaen. Characteristically, Bob Chilcott, whether in the delicate setting of Walter Raleigh’s Even such is time, the ethereal Love, a setting of words by Tennyson, or the vivid Steal away, originally written for the King’s Singers, finds exactly the right style to match the texts; and Voces Sacrae serve him, and the others, with absolute conviction.

—Marc Rochester