Review by georgeflanagin July 2, 2011 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Glorious in every way. Good music, well sung, fine recording, ridiculously cheap price. But you probably want some justification for this endorsement, which is why I have written the review.
I canvassed the SACD.net database for recordings that [a] I own, [b] have no reviews or were inadequately reviewed, [c] available, and most importantly are either [d] cheap or [e] worth what you have to pay. The new sofa in the listening room now has a stack of about ten discs meeting these qualifications on its end table, and this one is at the top of the stack.
This is the best plotted recital disc to come my way in a long time. I have been listening to it for years; the sticker reveals that I bought it a the full freight price before Tower Records went out of business in Richmond. And it was worth it.
The 100% a cappella concert is bookended by two takes on /O sacrum convivium/, the left bookend coming to us from the mind of Messiaen and the right one from Thomas Tallis 350 years earlier. Everything between is 20th century, and what a fine collection of music it is.
The major book in the collection is the Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor, which has SACD competition from Hickox on Chandos 5003. We also find four motets by Duruflé from the 1950s (post Requiem era), four by a young Aaron Copland, and Tavener's /Song of Athene/ from 1994.
A good bit of this music is fairly difficult to sing, but not for this well disciplined choir. The soloists sound like they belong to the group, and the solo parts are taken without an attempt to "stand out" or draw attention to themselves.
Comparing the Mass in G to its English competition, we find that Hickox takes the marking "slow" on the Kyrie seriously, but Mackenzie does not, and that sets a different emotional tone. We should keep in mind that both of these performances are part of a recital of sorts: Hickox's release includes the 4th symphony and the six choral songs for wartime -- a more serious minded grouping is unlikely to be found.
This is a more celebratory concert; consider again the bookends. Messiaen's take on /O sacrum convivium/ was written the year his son Pascal was born, and is filled with a radiant hope. Copland's motets may have been student pieces (looking at the calendar and where they were written), but they are inspired. Duruflee was in the height of his maturity. In all quite a survey.
The Messiaen work lasts 3:08. If you don't know this is a good recording after three minutes, you should probably turn off the hi-fi, go to bed, and try again in the morning.
The liner notes show a photo of a rehearsal session, and it matches what you hear. The sound is natural and unaffected, which suits the music well. The stereo spread is not absurdly wide, but it does span the left-to-right spread of the speakers, at least in my room.
A major contribution to the quality is the venue. The Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta is quiet, unlike say, many of Hyperion's venues in UK. This is a little surprising to me considering where it is, just off a six lane street in the Buckhead area north of the city center. Even more impressive, this album was recorded in June, and the air handler is either turned off or inaudible. My spectrum analyzer reveals noise in the two octaves from 20Hz to 80Hz to be around -70dB, and without any pronounced frequencies that would be more annoying than the random scatter.
It's six dollars. Are you waiting for a lower price?
(C) 2011 George Flanagin and sa-cd.net
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