Seven Words from the Cross
The Boston-based Skylark Vocal Ensemble, who made their UK debut this year in an innovative Good Friday concert at Tenebrae’s Holy Week Festival at St John’s Smith Square in London, embrace choral music across 10 centuries in their third Sono Luminus recording. Progressing thematically through the Seven Last Words, Skylark give themselves wholly to each piece in the effectively sequenced programme with a passionate purity that leaves the impression that any of this wonderfully consoling, transporting music could have been written at any time.
Alternating eloquent spirituals and angular William Billings hymns along with Hildegard, Hugo Distler and Poulenc, the programme reaches its apogee in 10 minutes of music by the contemporary composers Anna Thorvaldsdóttir and Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, one radiant and the other sturdy, before finishing with more traditional fare including an exquisite performance of John Sheppard’s In manus tuas. Mäntyjärvi’s Death may dissolve, the bolder and more dynamic of the two, is the first recording of a fantasy on a Billings hymn and as a result has a communal New England feel; Thorvaldsdóttir’s powerfully ethereal ann heilaga kross is more personally, painfully heartfelt.
The sheer musical purpose and thrilling skill with which the many solo passages are handled testify to Skylark’s depth; their ensemble work is often stunning. The recording, made at the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, outside Boston, accommodates the music’s long lines and spiritual harmonies with ease. Absorbing booklet notes by Skylark’s artistic director Matthew Guard and complete texts are provided.