A spotless rose Paul McCreesh 4777635

Time and again in this profoundly sentient collection of Marian compositions the Gabrieli Consort effectively bypass the whole self-oriented notion of 'performance', drawing the listener into what, in many of these pieces, is essentially a process of prayer through music. Josquin Desprez's "Ave Regina, virgo serena" is a good example, one voice-part unravelling liquidly from another, dynamics modulated by a seemingly natural ebb and flow of feeling, the imprecatory conclusion ('O mother of God, remember me') touching earth softly as a drifting feather. Similar qualities inform the serene, sensual "Nesciens Mater" of Renaissance French composer Jean Mouton, and Taverner's "A Hymn to the Mother of God" . . . James MacMillan's superbly dramatic "Seinte Mari Moder Milde" is in places fiercely, burningly imprecatory in its impact. It's magnificently sung here by the Gabrieli Consort, whom Paul McCreesh directs with passion and dedication throughout a CD I have no hesitation in labelling essential.

The cathedral's expansive atmosphere enhances the effect of the mingling sonorities in Tavener's opulent, slow-moving "A Hymn to the Mother of God". Equally, Giles Swayne's exuberant setting of the "Magnificat" capitalises on individual vocal parts that resonate pointedly. The earliest item here is the anonymous 15th-century "There is no Rose of Swych Vertu", sung with purity and serenity. Pinnacles of Renaissance art such as Josquin's "Ave Maria, virgo serena", Palestrina's "Stabat Mater" and the solemn, sumptuous "Nesciens Mater" by the French master Jean Mouton, create pools of intense, quietly voiced piety. MacMillan's "Seinte Mari Moder Milde", a dramatic fusion of medieval references with modern harmonic principles is complemented by another recent classic, Adès's "The Fayrfax Carol". The intervening historical period is represented by Grieg's exquisitely restrained "Ave Maris Stella", Herbert Howell's gorgeous "A Spotless Rose" and Bax's broad, rhapsodic "Mater ora filium", with Henryk Górecki's hypnotic "Totus tuus" ending the sequence. Sung throughout with sensitivity to style, this themed programme reveals the reverence and the rapture the Virgin Mary has inspired in music over the centuries.

It's a tremendously rewarding sequence, some 13 items in all spanning no fewer than 600 years, and so cannily programmed that temporal and stylistic boundaries shift and sometimes evaporate altogether . . . There can be nothing but praise for the breathtaking assurance and responsiveness of McCreesh's singers throughout . . . the sound is as atmospheric and voluptuous as can be imagined . . . this is indeed a glorious CD.

This is a collection which is genuinely timeless. Hugely impressive.

Herausgekommen ist eine so originelle wie stimmige, makellos schön vorgetragene Vokalsammlung.

. . . échafaudant une polyphonie pleine de grâce et de quiétude ("Ave Maria, virgo serena"), l'Annonciation avec un Stravinsky tout en souplesse et simplicité ("Ave Maria"). La joie de la Nativité est grande quand elle entre en résonance avec le "Nesciens Mater" de Mouton. Palestrina, lui, évoque par un double choeur la pleine d'une mère face à la crucifixion de son fils ("Stabat mater"). Enfin Marie prie pour les hommes dans la touchante lumière nordique de Grieg ("Ave maris stella") . . . Le Gabrieli Consort donne une indéniable cohérence à l'ensemble . . . des basses solides voir épaisses, des ténors et altos clairs, des sopranos excessivement éthérées . . .