Choirs of Angels: Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol 2
It may have been preferable to widen the net for the second volume of music from the Eton Choirbook (all but one composer on each disc appears on both): the composers represented on both these discs not only enjoy the most exposure in the Choirbook itself but come from its mid- to later period, from which point English polyphony was making dramatic changes. As this disc is so glorious in its sound and effects, it simply seems a shame not to have given a more comprehensive overview of how music developed over the course of the collection’s evolution. Hopefully that means there will be future volumes.
The back rows are ever so slightly bumped, but largely with ex-Christ Church choral scholars and lay clerks, so the distinctive Christ Church sound is not lost – and distinctive it most certainly is. The boys, in particular, sound as they always have under Stephen Darlington, singing with confident, healthily open voices that allow them to ascend through phrases and create a gloriously soaring effect, especially in the magnificent acoustics of Merton College chapel, away from the curiously dry acoustics of Christ Church Cathedral. They also manage with admirable maturity the complicated rhythmic decorations and frequent harmonic voltes-faces, a focus without which this music can become relentlessly rudderless, especially in works by Browne and Cornysh. But it is the mighty nine-part Salve regina by Robert Wylkynson that stands out on this disc: if ever there is a criticism to be laid at the gates of Christ Church, it is that the tuning of the top line will occasionally dip when the boys are singing through a long phrase, or lose support at the end of one. Although there are rare visions of this on ‘Choirs of Angels’, none appears in the Wylkynson – instead, it is a great wall of early Renaissance sound right from the first statement of the ‘Salve regina’, which is so tenacious in its focus from beginning to end that it imparts a sense of power that one could only reasonably expect from adults.