Many Are The Wonders
This is ORA’s third release in less than 18 months – a breathless pace that conductor-founder Suzi Digby plans to sustain for at least the choir’s first five years. After an accomplished but rather anonymous debut (‘Upheld By Stillness’, 3/16), the choir’s follow-up, ‘Refuge from the Flames’ (11/16), was a revelation – exciting, unusual repertoire performed with real flair and personality. ‘Many are the Wonders’ continues the group’s philosophy of pairing Renaissance classics with new commissions, but does it also continue the upwards trend?
Yes and no. The singing itself is still immaculate – seamlessly blended through the voices, a halo of resonance surrounding a solid vocal core, keeping things from getting too fey and floaty. The structure of paired motets – a Renaissance point of inspiration and a contemporary setting – also continues to work well, slipping over half an hour of world premieres into a disc that should still have broad appeal.
But the overall effect is of efficiency rather than rapture. The Tallis motets are tidily performed but lack the rhetorical care and clarity to eclipse existing recordings by the Oxford Camerata or The Sixteen. The five commissions mostly share a similar (and similarly safe) sound world. Somewhere between Pärt, Ešenvalds and the Anglican choral tradition, neither Harry Escott’s O light of light nor Frank Ferko’s Reflection on Thomas Tallis’ If ye love me assert or risk much, and Alec Roth’s Night Prayer sticks so close to its original (Tallis’s Te lucis ante terminum) as to be more of a variation than anything else.
Much more successful are Kerry Andrew’s robust, declamatory Archbishop Parker’s Psalme 150 – nodding to tradition without ever losing its own contemporary voice – and the cascading imitation of Richard Allain’s Videte miraculum, an atmosphere-piece whose ingenuous, consonant simplicity trusts to performance to gild it into luminous beauty.
ORA’s remains a worthy project but I’m once again left longing for the risk – both in repertoire and performance – that these musicians could offer to turn efficiency into inspiration.