(An) Eternal Harmony
At the centre of this recording stand the large-scale choral works of Robert Carver, canon of Scone (d1546). His music attracted a good deal of interest in the early 1990s, when The Taverner Consort, The Sixteen and Cappella Nova all issued recordings independently within a very short period. (Cappella Nova actually recorded all his surviving music on a multiple CD set for ASV.) In the main, this new release is a compilation drawn from two discs previously released on Collins Classics, to which The Sixteen have added fresh material: the motets by Robert Ramsey and, most significantly, a newly commissioned work by James MacMillan in emulation of his countryman’s 19-voice O bone Jesu.
I suspect that this last feature will be the principal attraction, both to The Sixteen’s devoted following and to the admirers of Scotland’s most prominent living composer. The new work wears its allegiance to its model plainly enough – almost too plainly, one might say. Some gestures are rather perfunctory nods in the general direction of Carver’s idiom; others, like the ‘sighing’ glissandi after the 4'00" mark, seem strangely out of place, as though an ‘extended technique’ had been pressed into service to mark the piece out as contemporary. I must also admit that the work’s structure continues to elude me (the ending in particular) even after repeated listening. That said, MacMillan’s handling of choral writing is undeniably skilful, and The Sixteen clearly relish the ensemble and solo effects that he has contrived. It will probably become a mainstay of the choral repertoire, at least in the UK.
The performance of the new work is on a par with that of the earlier repertory. It is all most fluently handled, but in nearly every other instance there are rival readings that cut just that little bit deeper. But even if comparisons are not exactly in The Sixteen’s favour, the general level of musicianship is obviously very high and this disc has its ‘target audience’ well in its sights: not quite a bullseye for this reviewer, but a clear success for all that.