Search - John Tavener, Josquin Desprez, Igor Stravinsky :: Spotless Rose

Spotless Rose
John Tavener, Josquin Desprez, Igor Stravinsky
Spotless Rose
Genres: Special Interest, Classical


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A voice teacher and early music fan
George Peabody | Planet Earth | 01/31/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)


There are 13 selections on this recording spanning some 600 years, although it is heavy on the 20th century, eight in all with composers John Tavener, Igor Stravinsky, Giles Swayne , Herbert Howells, Thomas Ades,James McMillan, Arnold Bax and Henryk Gorecki. Others are one 19th century Edwin Grey; one 16th century Giovanni Palestrina; two 15th century Josquin Des Pres, Jean Mouton; and one 14th century anonymous. It's quite amazing how all of this ties together in one glorious theme-centered recording, but it does and very nicely, if you please. It all reveals very neatly the reverence and rapture that the Virgin Mary has inspired in music over the centuries.

This recording delineates from European composers from Josquin to Ades to explore music which honors the Virgin Mary, the most venerated personage of all Catholic Saints, and the inspiration for much devotional music throughout the ages.

The program revolves around the main events in the life of Mary. Performed a cappella in the gloriously revereberant Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral, its opening 'A Hymn to the Mother of God' by Tavener, makes full use of the acoustic space which allows the listener to be surrounded by the energizing harmonies. Moreover, the cathedral's expansive atmosphere enhances the effect of the mingling sonorities of Gile Swayne's exuberant setting of the 'Magnificat'.

Tavener's opening selection is followed by Josquin's setting of 'Ave Maria,Virgo Serena', a noteworthy piece in which Paul McCreesh avoids any sense of haste thus creating a beguiling surface stillness. This sensitive quietness in the first two tracks infiltrates all of the early works on this disc and also continues through Howell's 'A Spotless Rose', and Ade's 'The Fayrfax Carol'.

Time and again McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort effectively bypass the entire self-oriented notion of 'performance', drawing the listener into what is essentially a process of prayer through music. This is particularly true of the serene, sensual 'Nesciens Mater' of Renaissance French composer Jean Mouton and Tavener's 'A Hymn to the Mother of God.

If McCreesh's intent was to endow this entire program with a meditative framework, he has indeed achieved his intent. And at the same time he has demonstrated an astoundingly high level of choral discipline on the part of the Gabrieli Consort.

McCreesh's singers have lovely voices and show and display and inner sensitivity to the linear as well as the harmonic qualities of much of this music. The number of singers varied from composer to composer; some of the selections have double choirs. Overall the making of this recording required as many as thirty singers(Arnold Bax selection) while the fewest singers were required in the Palestrina which also used the only entirely male group. This album is really a contemplative journey; the intensity and passion of the music seems to grow in a subtle manner as large sounding voices begin to emerge which is most obvious in the works of Bax, McMillan and Gorecki.

Though we all possess our own unique reactions as we hear musical selections, especially of a religious nature, the transcendent beauty of this recording with its inspirational and exquisite singing should overwhelm in a positive way the listener!

I have several recordings of this group, my favorite being: 'A Venetian Christmas' and a two CD 'Venetian Vespers'; both have provided me with several years of enjoyment, and I am sure this one will do the same! The package includes an informative booklet with pertinent information and a complete text of the pieces; all is in Latin, English, German and French.

QUOTATION FROM GRAMOPHONE, MARCH, 2009: "This CD contains a tremendously rewarding sequence, some thirteen items in all spanning no fewer than 600 years, and so cannily programmed that temporal and stylistic boundaries evaporate altogether...There can be nothing but praise for the breathtaking assurance and responsiveness of McCreesh's singers throughout....the sound is as atmospheric and voluptuous as can be imagined...this is indeed a glorious CD."