Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
This is an interesting combination - interesting in a good way, I hasten to add - of three motets from probably the greatest composer of choral music ever in J. S. Bach along with, in my opinion, the greatest of living composers. The vocal consort Tenebrae bring their trademark passion and precision to their performance recorded live at Snape Maltings in May 2023. In his liner notes Nigel Short, Tenebrae's Director, explains that post-lockdown the singers felt the need to sing to an audience rather than an empty studio but audiophiles need not fear as the sound quality is uniformly excellent with no intrusive noise from the attentive listeners. Renowned for their technical difficulty, Bach's motets are pillars of the choral repertoire, requiring minute attention to detail as well as a full emotional range. As Short says, there are already plenty of recordings of the complete Bach motets and here, Tenebrae perform three of the best known of the set in "Komm, Jesu, komm" (BWV 229), "Jesu, meine Freude" (BWV 227) and the glorious "Singet dem Herrn" (BWV 225). Like Bach, Sir James MacMillan has written much of his music for the church, and his settings of the Tenebrae responsories paint a vivid picture of the harrowing events of Holy Week. This album also features the premiere recording of "I Saw Eternity The Other Night" from a poem by Henry Vaughan. This was commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the well-respected London Bach Society. As Nigel Short says, the music of Sir James will be as revered in 400 years' time as Bach is today and, in my opinion, he may not be wrong. Certainly, admirers of Sir James will want this album in their collection and while there are indeed many other recordings of the Bach motets available those included here stand comparison with any I have heard and in juxtaposition with MacMillan's sacred songs make for an illuminating and at times numinous listening experience.
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