The Sixteen, bright stars of the Baroque, have plenty to say on 20th-century repertoire (witness their excellent Britten series on Collins). Underpin them with the BBC Philharmonic and it might seem a magic formula. Ives’s unearthly The Unanswered Question holds few problems for instrumental players weaned on Maxwell Davies – no more than do the brilliant wind roulades of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Deft BBC teamwork and a chamber articulation to woodwind and brass helps this Koussevitzky-commissioned masterpiece to shed its often hammy ‘big band’ sound, creeping closer to the subtle, leaner sonorities of his later choral works. It gains. The singing varies. Too many dynamic shifts sound prosaic or under-prepared; fortes are forced, with muddy results. The vocal blend (happier in lower voices) can seem haphazard and colours the Tippett, where the men’s roars – contrast the lovely, sensual soprano solo – seem crude. Get this disc, instead, for the rare, late Poulenc – his New York-commissioned Sept répons. It is a curiously under-recorded devotional work, bleeding with pathos yet pumping energy, its exoticism enhanced by slightly breathy, tender solos, and scintillatingly sung with just those crucial missing qualities of awe and freshness. A million times more refined than what goes before.
These lamentations are beautifully conceived by Zelenka who has a knack for providing wonderful melodies imbued with mysticism and dignity both for chorus and orchestra. Each lamentation is about twenty four minutes long and is split into two parts that contain some crafty, intelligent writing. The three soloists are quite magnificent in their portrayals of Christ's passion with Michael George particularly impressive in all pieces.
The Chandos Baroque Players are always up to the forefront of proceedings and provide admirably succinct accompaniments. Hyperion has also retained the excellent notes that accompanied the original issue and as I already mentioned, this is now one of the most satisfying releases in the sterling Helios series.(Gerald Fenech)