Voces 8: Equinox
Few ensembles put a programme together quite as well as Voces8. Thoughtful, themed discs have become something of a signature for the British eight-voice a cappella group, and ‘Equinox’ might just be the most interesting yet.
Two – or possibly even three – cycles run concurrently here: the sacred cycle of the church calendar, the human cycle from birth to death, and the natural turning of the year from winter to spring. Somehow all of these arcs run concurrently through an eclectic programme that takes in everything from plainchant and Praetorius to Arvo Pärt, throwing up various echoes and intersections along the way.
At the centre of this beautifully produced recording is Jonathan Dove’s substantial cycle The Passing of the Year (2000). It’s a welcome choice. A contrast to the miniatures that frame it, it offers these skilful singers something more substantial to get their teeth into. The contrast between this recording and the 2012 account by the Convivium Singers (Naxos, 5/12) is revealing. Whatever the work loses in collective force and impact it gains in textural clarity, purity of intonation and the blowsy beauty of Voces8’s sopranos, who gild Dove’s fecund, at times rather over-ripe writing with the radiance it demands. The vertical clarity through the vocal parts – supported by the propulsive rhythms of the composer himself at the piano – is another bonus.
Other highlights include some graceful plainsong singing from the women of the group, Philip Stopford’s smoochy Ave maris stella (surely a modern classic in the making) and an unexpectedly effective a cappella arrangement of the ‘Pie Jesu’ from Fauré’s Requiem. For a disc with broad commercial appeal, ‘Equinox’ smuggles in a good deal of musical substance.