POULENC Mass in G. Motets
Any new recording from The Sixteen is going to be well worth hearing. It almost goes without saying that the singing will be of a technical standard beyond reproach, while Harry Christophers’s innate musicianship will ensure a performance of supreme artistic worth. This latest release does not disappoint. This is a sumptuous recording of flawless singing and intense music-making.
However, while this is a truly exquisite piece of choral singing, it almost seems too perfect. It’s as if Poulenc’s directness of expression and raw emotional impulses are filtered through a thick, highly polished veneer. In short, it misses the honesty and openness that are such potent features in the recent recordings from the Netherlands Chamber Choir and Tenebrae.
Despite the wonderfully vivid organ colours Robert Quinney adds to Litanies à la Vierge Noire, The Sixteen sound too comfortable and self-assured. Their singing of the Motets pour le temps du Noël is certainly unutterably lovely, yet at times it feels almost over-sung – the clarity of detail in ‘Quem vidistis pastores’ verges on the musically pretentious – and the warm, sultry tone they exude in Un soir de neige seems to look at Poulenc’s desolate winter landscapes as if through a window while seated in front of a roaring log fire.
No reservations at all with the Mass, where they effortlessly negotiate Poulenc’s difficult chromatic lines, articulate the delicate tracery of the widely separated pitches and cut a purposeful path through his thick, closely woven textures. The gloriously buoyant sopranos may not have quite the same sense of ‘sweet joy’ (to quote Poulenc’s comment on the score) as James O’Donnell’s Westminster choristers in the Sanctus, but the fullness of the choral sound is hard to beat and their rhythmically exhilarating Gloria is the stuff of dreams.