Taverner: The Western Wind / Hillier, Ars Nova
The first-rate Danish vocal ensemble Ars Nova offers one of the most sonorous, sensitively balanced, and interpretively satisfying renditions of John Taverner's Western Wind Mass to appear on disc, taking its place alongside the reference Tallis Scholars performance on Gimell. However, unlike other versions, this one supplies the Mass with a Kyrie, a richly beautiful setting by the same composer, graced with a captivating melody and affecting, robust polyphonic textures, titled Kyrie Le Roy (the King). There's a sense of drama in these performances that goes beyond the purely liturgical--but this is a recording, and the powerful ending of the Gloria, for instance, is not only in keeping with the sense of the text, but also brings Taverner's vibrant, colorful harmonies to full flower.
As usual, conductor Paul Hillier spices his program with several obscure or unknown gems: the "anonymous" Ah, my dear son; William Cornysh's Woefully arrayed, a gruesome, emotionally intense utterance of Christ on the cross; and Sheryngham's Ah, gentle Jesu, a fascinating dialogue between a "sinner" and Jesus. And the fourth verse of John Browne's Jesu, mercy--another impassioned, distraught contemplation of the cross ("Jesu, mercy, how may this be?")--is one of the more brutal and profoundly moving examples of English Renaissance sacred choral music you'll ever hear. The closing In pace by Christopher Tye is an unqualified masterpiece that deserves repeated, careful listening.
This choir has everything right, including the vocal sound--open, free, unobstructed, with an utterly natural clarity and brightness that seems a common characteristic of Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian singers--and ensemble intelligence and maturity. The recorded sound can be somewhat gritty in the loudest moments, but it's not really an issue in the context of such excellent performances and outstanding music.
– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: 8226050
Label: Marco Polo
Composer: Anonymous, Christopher Tye, John Browne, John Taverner, Sheryngham, William Cornysh
Conductor: Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble: Ars Nova Copenhagen