Music from the Eton Choirbook
Astonishingly, this is the only recording currently available of music from that most precious of early Tudor sources, the Eton Choirbook. Like the huge, exquisitely copied manuscript that contains them, the pieces are monumental and sumptuous in style, and rarely short-winded: four out of the seven sung here by The Sixteen extend to more than 13 minutes of almost seamless polyphony. Nor is it easy music to perform, especially at the high pitch that the choir adopt. Ornamental roulades, lines that swoop and soar, vast melismas that stretch single syllables into choral vocalizesthese and other obstacles place the Eton music far beyond the ability of most choirs. But what glorious music it is, and how richly it deserves to be performed more often by those few specialists who can meet its challenges.
In certain respects this Meridian reissue is welcome and generous: welcome in the sense that the performances are on the whole acceptable, if not quite up to The Sixteen's current standards, and generous in that the CD brings together all the music of one LP, ''Salve regina'' (E77039), and the two most substantial pieces from its successor, ''Stabat mater'' (E77062), to make up a total playing time of 75 minutes. In other respects it disappoints: the recording quality is variable, and the insert sheet, pasted together from the original LP artwork, is ungrateful on the eye in terms of its makeshift design, its tiny print and poor reproduction.
Harry Christophers opts for a tense, assertive choral sound that sometimes borders on roughness, especially in the pieces for men's voices alone. Abrupt shifts in dynamics are virtually the only interpretative shaping that he admits, and even these can seem contrived. Admittedly the policy of letting the music speak largely for itself has some justification, yet so much more remains to be eked out of pieces of the majesty of John Browne's Stabat mater and Robert Wilkinson's breathtaking nine-part Salve regina. In short: as a stop-gap it's good to have these performances back in the catalogue. But how dearly this awesome music demands something even better.'