Desires: A Song of Songs Collection
Founded just three years ago, Suzi Digby’s ORA Singers have already got six recordings under their belt and established a clear musical signature – both in the pillowy, smudgy depth of their choral blend and in programming that combines Renaissance polyphony with contemporary works, often newly commissioned by the group themselves. ‘Desires’, the group’s newest release, doesn’t deviate from the successful model, taking the Song of Songs as the guiding thread through works by Victoria, White, Vivanco and Jonathan Dove, Gabriel Jackson and Francis Grier.
There’s something about the heady, sensuous verses of the Song of Songs that sets composers dreaming in cloudy chord clusters, drifting around in suggestively interwoven lines and long, curving arcs of plainchant. The cooler, more sober beauty of Rodrigo de Ceballos’s Hortus conclusus offers a welcome contrast, as does the full bodied magnificence of Victoria’s Vadam et circuibo, both showing off the ensemble’s fine basses and glowing, unforced choral richness.
But the same texts that draw such gorgeous indecency from composers seem to have drawn a little too much expression from the choir. There’s an uncharacteristic grip to the soprano sound, which often sounds pushed and less unanimous than we’ve come to expect, and the exposed solo lines of the Jackson expose some issues of tonal control. Clemens non Papa’s breathtaking Ego flos campi is undeniably lovely here but it is worked a little hard from the start, lacking that sense of fragile blooming that can be so effective. Robert White’s Tota pulchra es is a similar story.
The contemporary works are all cut from similar harmonic cloth. Welcome little thorns of astringency temper the harmonic roses of Grier’s highly perfumed Dilectus meus mihi, while Dove’s female-voice-dominated Vadam et circuibo is all sonic sensuality and striking effects. Both John Barber’s Sicut lilium and Gabriel Jackson’s I am the Rose of Sharon look back to chant, but through gauzy, gilded cloths. It’s all very generous, very gorgeous and leaves you desperate for a stern bit of counterpoint.