Music from The Eton Choirbook Vol. 4
The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, Stephen Darlington
Avie AV 2359
John Browne Salve regina I & II
Horwood Gaude flore virginali
The fourth volume in the Avie’s superb exploration of the Eton Choirbook brings us two superb Salve Reginas by John Browne, the Magnificat by William, Monk of Stratford and William Horwood’s Gaude flore virginali. Again and again I was stuck by Stephen Darlington’s affinity with this music: his instinctive choice of effective tempi, his effortless transitions from section to section and his masterly overview of these largescale works. Impressive too, as in the previous volumes, is the ability of his singers to transition effortlessly from tutti to solo singers and back again. A cathedral choir is an entity which like a vintage wine changes flavour over time, and one factor in this is the unpredictable boy treble section. Some listeners to Browne’s first Salve Regina may feel that the solo and tutti boy treble sound is not quite as sweet as on the choir’s previous recordings in the series, but to my mind this is just an aspect of the natural evolution of any choir’s sound. The more familiar of the two Browne Salve reginas is for the standard five-part ‘Eton’ choir and the Oxford choristers rise well to its challenges. The other setting, remarkably receiving its premiere recording here, is set for TTTBarB and also proves to be a stunning masterpiece, muscular and dynamic. The Monk of Stratford’s Magnificat is also for adult male voices, and it too allows the remarkable lower voices of the choir to shine. William Horwood’s SATTB setting of Gaude flore virginali, also receiving its premiere recording, proves to be a work of profound inspiration and invention. To my ear the treble contribution here sounds more mellow too. It is remarkable to think that music of such superlative quality is still being rediscovered, and full congratulations are due to Avie and to Stephen Darlington and his choir for their ongoing project.
D. James Ross