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Earnest passion: Tucker Biddlecombe and the Vanderbilt Chorale shine in a variety of repertoire

David Dickau’s gently intoxicated If music be the food of love, the Vanderbilt Chorale launch into each track with the earnest passion that only university music students can innocently and genuinely provide. Led by longtime music director Tucker Biddlecombe, the Chorale shine in a variety of repertoire that suggests the experience of hearing an actual concert, though they were recorded last year over six days in April and September.

The sheer professionalism of the results in the larger sets like Eric Whitacre’s Three Songs of Faith and Michael Slayton’s Three Settings of Ezra Pound – where the singers deal so well with the demands of layerings, shadings, colour and intonation – nevertheless comes with a certain sameness at times. They seem more personally involved with Jonathan Dove’s substantial The Passing of the Year, a moving reflection on life in memory of the composer’s mother, ‘who died too young’.

It is Ravel’s Trois Chansons that unexpectedly steal the show. The Chorale get the sophisticated sound of the French just right, singing the words as if they were poetry; in ‘Trois beaux oiseaux du paradis’ the soprano Lauren Urquhart sings her solo with celestial beauty. And even though they flirt with rough going early on in ‘Ronde’, the Chorale end up quite deliciously.

The Chorale seem equally at home in smaller pieces by Alf Houkum and Eliza

Gilkyson (an exquisitely brief Requiem), and a traditional song in the IsiXhosa click language. Laurence Vittes

‘Seven Words from the Cross’ Billings David’s Lamentation. Jordan (‘There is a land of pure delight’). Plymton (‘In deep distress I oft have cried’). When Jesus wept Bradbury Just as I am F Buckley Break it gently to my mother H Distler Ich wollt, dass ich daheime wär Hildegard of Bingen Karitas abundat Mäntyjärvi Death may dissolve (Fantasia on a Hymn by William Billings) Poulenc Vinea mea electa Sheppard In manus tuas Thorvaldsdóttir Þann heilaga kross Traditional Deep River. New Britain (‘Amazing Grace’). Were you there?. Wondrous Love Skylark Vocal Ensemble Sono Luminus F (CD + Y) DSL92219 (49’ • DDD • DTS‑HD MA5.1, 9.1 Auro-3D & 9.1 Dolby Atmos • T/t)

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. Laurence Vittes


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