Mark Swinton | 10/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With this disc, their first recording for John Rutter's Collegium label, the Choir of Clare College in Cambridge prove themselves worthy to stand alongside the best in this country - and then some...At the outset, I have to admit that I'm not wholly impressed by the programme. The title "Illumina" treads on ground that countless choirs have covered over the last ten years, and the music includes several items that fit in with that title, despite having been 'done to death' on other choral compilations: I have already come across dozens of CDs with "O nata lux" by Thomas Tallis, "Hymn to the Creator of Light" by John Rutter and "Hail, gladdening light" by Charles Wood, for instance, and it is as if having yet another recording of each detracts from the value of the others in my collection. The programme also includes a number of excerpts from Russian masterworks: specifically, canticles from the Vigil settings of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Gretchaninov all appear (indeed, the last two composers are represented by their different settings of the same canticle!). In a similar vein is the inclusion of the Evening Hymn from Rautavaara's "Vigilia," sung in Finnish. Dense and rich polyphonic works of the Renaissance and late Romantic schools nestle side by side (cantus firmus motets by Thomas Tallis and Robert Whyte are paired off with soupy and familiar anthems by William Harris and Gustav Holst); these are contrasted by monodic plainchants and a hymn by Hildegard of Bingen. A Nunc Dimittis by Josquin also makes an appearance (it is the third setting of that particular text on the disc!) before the programme ends with Gyorgi Ligeti's striking and ethereal "Lux Aeterna."So, a very predictable programme that might not seem worth purchasing, particularly as choral music lovers are bound to have all these tracks on previous releases. However, when it comes to actually listening to the disc, one finds it definitely worth adding to a choral collection. The Choir of Clare College have made recordings in the past, but not one of them is nearly as stunning as this. Timothy Brown draws the most amazing quality of sound from the singers: every note is precise, every word is clear, every texture is sonorous to the right degree, the balance is superb, the dynamic control is exquisite... The choir was obviously having a good year in terms of basses, who negotiate the infernal notes in the Rachmaninov and Rautavaara tracks with incredible power and admirable precision. Similarly, the sopranos and altos (Clare College Choir is mixed rather than all-male as at King's College) have a beautiful tone in the high registers of their voices. Completing the package are the scintillating acoustics of the recording venue: the Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral. This lends a wonderful glow to all the music, even the Ligeti (I've never heard it sung as well as this).In short, whilst the programme is right in the middle of the beaten track, this disc is a revelation: a perfect recommendation to anyone looking to explore the rich choral traditions of this country and others besides, a breath of fresh air into any choral collection, a stunning performance by a truly brilliant choir under a very capable director. Excellent!"
A beautiful ensemble tone
David Robinson | Oakland, CA United States | 09/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most people who are used to the boy-treble sound of Kings College, wince at the thought of women-sopranos as members of the choir for English church music. But this Clare College performance would win over the most die-hard traditionalist. The program is a collection of familar and more interesting works spanning several centuries of the genre. The performances are measured, controlled and have a true ensemble tone. Although it would be unfair to treat this disc as just background music, it can be a wonderful oasis of calm after a busy day."
Stephanie DeChambeau | St. Louis, MO USA | 02/13/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I didn't think there was a group out there that could outshine the Cambridge Singers, but this group has done it. (Their shared history with John Rutter could have something to do with it!) "Bring Us, O Lord God" and "Hymn to the Creator of Light" are among the all-time great choral moments. Their sound is a shade warmer than the Cambridge Singers, which is an asset when moving outside Renaissance choral literature. The choir can sing with the pristine purity needed for Palestrina and the warm lushness needed for Rachmaninoff and Rautavaara. Every track on this album is stunning. This is now the first CD I send to people looking to start or augment their choral music collection. I can't recommend it highly enough!"