Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
VOCES8 is, as the name suggests, an acappella octet. Previous releases (some reviewed on this site) demonstrate their vocal prowess with comparisons being made with the King's Singers and the Swingle Singers. Here we are closer to King's territory with the vocal pyrotechnics under tight control as we tour vocal music across the centuries. All the pieces are spiritual and, indeed, two are Spirituals with the capital S: "Go Down Moses" in Tippett's arrangement and "Steal Away" arranged by David Blackwell. Although it is near the end of the CD (track 15 of 18) "Steal Away" is a good starting point as it segues into Rheinberger's "Abendlied", a lovely evening meditation which is followed by Tavener's classic setting of Blake's "The Lamb" which leads to the concluding "Agnus Dei" from Byrd's Mass for Four Voices. The different pieces from 17th to 20th century harmonise so perfectly that we can only applaud whoever selected and sequenced them. By the way, we get the Kyrie from Byrd's Mass near the beginning of the CD, between his "Vigilate" and Monteverdi's "Cantate Domino". Another sequence that flows very nicely indeed. Three members of London-based VOCES8 were choristers at Westminster Abbey and although some of their previous releases have been secular - and none the worse for that - this album is entirely sacred. Personally, I would prefer to swap one of the countertenors for an alto to get a different vocal blend (and I do not say better, merely different) as I am not overly fond of the tone of the typical countertenor. However, the two here, Chris Wardle and Barnaby Smith, are top singers and I would not want to sound a negative note so we will move on. The remaining six parts have two sopranos, two tenors, and a single baritone and bass giving an excellent blend throughout. VOCES8 are as good as any vocal ensemble I have heard for many a year and the material on this CD is well chosen and superbly sung.
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