ROAD TO PARADISE Gabrieli Cons. McCreesh 4776605

Paul McCreesh had organised the repertoire as a kind of Pilgrim¿s Progress -- not in the sense that the pieces were associated with the great medieval pilgrim routes, but rather as a way of tracing a soul¿s journey from life to death. Of course there were some compromises, such as placing Howells¿s "Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing" in the concert¿s final section, called "A Vision of Paradise". Written for President Kennedy¿s memorial service, this grief-wracked motet is anything but settled, peaceful and paradisical. But presenting that demanding piece straight after Holst¿s equally challenging "Nunc Dimittis and William" Harris¿s unexpectedly grand "Bring Us, O Lord God" at least gave the 22 unaccompanied voices of the Gabrieli Consort an opportunity to unleash their full vocal power, which was thrilling. I swear I saw Hawksmoor¿s mighty pillars tremble . . . Pride of place here went to the Götterdämmerung of the Tudor world: John Sheppard¿s "Media vita". A full 20 minutes of sonorous mid-16th century counterpoint, spiced with the most exquisitely plangent dissonances, it was brilliantly sustained. As was Tallis¿s Miserere -- not just a virtuoso feat of contrapuntal daring, but one of the 16th century¿s most sublime masterpieces . . . this was a concert that did full justice to some of England¿s finest choral music.

The Gabrieli Consort leaps into the chart with its first-ever 'concept' album.

It's a beautifully realised sequence, framed by plainchant and a tolling bell, which begins with Tallis's tiny motet Miserere Nostri Domine, and ends with Herbert Howells' Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing. The most substantial work is John Sheppard's elaborate six-voice Media Vita in Morte Sumus, wonderfully sung by the mixed voices of the Gabrieli Consort. Every performance is beautifully conceived and recorded in an acoustic that gives enough churchy resonance without obscuring the detail.

Exquisitely sung, they amount to a solemn, very English response to life's transience and the permanence of death.

McCreesh turns an artistic thread binding the two golden ages of English choral music -- Tudor and 20th-century -- into a pilgrimage of the soul, from life to death to immortality in paradise . . . Robert Parsons¿s Ave Maria, William Byrd¿s Christe, qui lux es and especially John Sheppard¿s enormous, almost 20-minute Media Vita make ample amends, as do the 16-year-old Britten¿s prodigious A Hymn to the Virgin and Holst¿s beautiful Nunc Dimittis. There are riches here, superbly sung by the Gabrielis . . .

. . . the Gabrieli Consort actually come up with some exceptional performances here. There are genuinely moving and enlightening accounts of Robert Parsons's "Ave Maria" and of Britten's "A Hymn to the Virgin", quite simply as good as anything available elsewhere, a beautifully posed account of "A Good-Night" which perfectly captures the simple, direct character of Richard Rodney Bennett's setting, and a graceful, elegant, unforgettable performances of John Sheppard's "In pace in idipsum" which exudes tranquillity. There is no doubt that Paul McCreesh has been inspired to draw from his singers performances of unusual sumptuousness in their own right . . .

. . . it is his personal passion for the specific choices that drives the enthusiasm behind the performances . . . Elsewhere the performances do not match the stimulating variety of the selection. The artfully resonant recording rings the singers with a translucent halo without quite dispelling the sense of virtuoso voices in concert. You could travel a long way to find a more carefully shaped account of the Parsons "Ave Maria", but not so far for one that treats each phrase on its own merits, for a sense of its fragility and increasing confidence. As McCreesh emphasise in the booklet, we are a long, long way from Choral Evensong.

Beautiful singing . . . The disc is most memorable for the inclusion of John Sheppard¿s Media Vita, Tudor polyphony¿s longest work. There is no sluggishness here, only the glorious interplay of voices.

As always, the Gabrieli Consort's singing is of the highest quality and the recording is impeccable.

It begins with Tallis's "Miserere Nostri" and within seconds you wonder if this was wise: after such a gorgeous performance of this sublime music, surely everything else will be an anti-climax. Well, no. The plainsong "Jacet Granum/Prosa Clangat Pastor", reaching back several centuries further, emulates it for grace, depth of feeling and sense of wonder. This is the rich soil from which everything else here sprang.

In this beautiful, reflective and richly performed CD the Gabrieli Consort celebrates the medieval concept of life in death and death in life.

McCreesh's exquisite programme follows the soul's journey from life through death into Paradise, finding resonances of ancient plainchant in later choral settings . . . the quality of singing is mesmerising.

Mit seinem Edelchor begibt er sich auf eine musikalische Pilgerreise durch die englische Chorliteratur . . . Als Hörer kann man diese sängerisch wunderbar umgesetzte Straße in Richtung Eden . . . genießen.

Der stählern-brillante, fast vibratofreie Klang des Gabrieli Consort, dessen . . . freie Stimmen nahezu perfekt verschmelzen, ist . . . beeindruckend. Und mit welch großem dynamischen Spektrum werden die meisten Stücke vorgetragen!

Wahrhaft paradiesische Klänge hat Paul McCreesh auf diese CD versammelt . . . Mit einer sehr gelungenen Werkauswahl versinnbildlicht er einen Weg von der "Stunde des Todes" bis zur Entrückung ins Paradies mit Gregorianischem Choral . . . Musiziert ist das ganze jedenfalls auf hohem Niveau . . .

. . .[une] belle et intelligente anthologie . . . cet éventail cohérent et éclectique est en fait un vrai panorama spirituel. En revenant à la direction chorale, McCreesh semble opérer un retour aux sources, une sorte de pèlerinage qui lui réussit fort bien, ainsi qu'à nous.

. . . les chanteurs ont toutes ces musiques dans la voix, certains depuis leur plus jeunes âge . . . il y a une réelle fascination à se perdre dans ce monde . . . Paul McCreesh lui donne un tour personnel très émouvant.