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Recordings

Hear the Voice and Prayer
23 Sep 2007

Hear the Voice and Prayer

There are a number of signs of the popularity of the King’s Singers—their longevity as an ensemble, the huge success of their public concerts, and their sizable discography all come immediately to mind.

Another manifestation, however, is the legacy of having inspired the creation of other all-male, one-to-a-part, chapel-trained ensembles that have left the choir stalls and taken to the concert stage and recording studio. Ensemble Amarcord is one such ensemble, founded in 1992 by former members of the choir of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. The influence of English ensembles like the King’s Singers or the Hilliard Ensemble, both of which are cited in the liner notes, is discernible—unavoidably so—but the German ensemble is no shallow clone. Their sound is a big one, generous and full, though always well focused. And the fullness of the sound is enhanced in this recording by the ample acoustic of the Stiftskirche St. Petri in Petersberg bei Halle.

The big sound is distinctive, but so too the repertory here. Some of the pieces are the “usual suspects”—anthems and motets by Byrd and Tallis, Josquin, and Pierre de la Rue. But the offering of works by Orff, Peter Cornelius, Rudolf Mauersberger, and Marcus Ludwig shows Ensemble Amarcord well attuned to their national heritage. The Orff work, “Sunt lacrimae rerum” is notably rhythmicized and reiterative, and an interesting contrast to the supple lines of the earlier Renaissance works. Similarly, Ludwig’s “Tenebrae” explores a clustery palette and features some of the ensemble’s best soft singing.

There is much to praise here, especially the flawlessly pure tuning and nobility of the sound. (In homophonic passages I was frequently reminded of the beauty of trombone choirs.) The early works on the program are well served by one-to-a-part singing, as both modern experience and historical model have confirmed. That said, however, one might wonder if the later works on the recording (Poulenc and Milhaud, in addition to the Germans cited above) do not miss a truly choral texture. There is a clarity and flexibility in the solo ensemble that is undeniably compelling, but in these later works one will occasionally miss the color of choral sound, a reminder of the difficulties of broad programming. In the category of quibbles, the “German English” of the Tallis pieces will catch the ear now and then, and the absence of English translations of the sung texts is a regret (a surprising one, at that, as the program notes appear in English). But these are small points. In the liner notes, the ensemble invites the listener to consider the title of the recording broadly. Indeed, hearing the voice of Ensemble Amarcord is an experience that will amply repay the effort again and again.

Steven Plank

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