Emma Coull

Spem in Alium / Vidi Aquam – CD review

4:01, 9th September 2020

Spem in Alium / Vidi Aquam

ORA Singers/ Suzi Digby (dir)

Harmonia mundi HMM 902669.70


The line-up for this CD includes some of the UK’s finest and most experienced consort singers, so it is hardly surprising that the delivery of this beautiful programme is near-flawless. At its heart are 13 shortish renaissance motets for solo voices by composers such as Gerarde, Ferrabosco, Wilder and Byrd – most of them very rare, sung from new editions prepared by Sally Dunkley. They have been selected by John Milsom as what he describes as a ‘tasting menu’ of Tudor motet repertoire (it is even preceded by a grace), to complement the massive works that bookend the recording: a first-rate performance of the 40-part Spem in alium by Tallis that combines majestic assurance with a relaxed sense of space; and the premiere recording of a new 40-part motet by James MacMillan, Vidi aquam. This was commissioned by ORA as a ‘reflection’ of Spem in alium and is yet another masterpiece from MacMillan’s pen. It takes the 16th-century original as a starting point, and its famous theme runs through the opening sequences, punctuated by similar great silences; then the vocal lines splinter into ever more complex patterns, like waves crashing on a rocky shore, building into ecstatic alleluias and a dramatic climax. Listening in the summer of 2020, a year after it was recorded, Vidi aquam seems suffused with the pain of our current situation when 40 voices singing in such close proximity to one another seems a distant dream. Who knows when this fiendishly complex and thrilling piece will receive a public premiere?


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