My knowledge of the choral scene has a great many gaps, and I hadn’t until now come across the Vasari Singers and their conductor Jeremy Backhouse, despite the fact that this definitely top-drawer group has existed for forty years, commissioning and recording a really wide range of music. My attention was at last drawn to their latest CD release Heaven full of Stars since it includes my own composition Like to the Falling of a Star. The performance of the whole disc (with organist Martin Ford) is exceptionally vivid.
Many choral discs share the same pattern; fifteen or so shortish tracks, each by a different composer. As when I attend carol concerts, I sometimes worry that there is a general feeling of “isn’t everything lovely!” Several tracks on the Vasari CD do this miraculously well; for instance Stars by Eriks Esenvalds, which includes tuned wine glasses in its uniformly ecstatic sound.
But, being me, I prefer music which at least alludes to difficulty, one of life’s major ingredients. For this reason I usually enjoy John Tavener’s music (not on the present disc) because it often contains something stark within it, some astringent spacing or something like that. Out of this recording I particularly admired Roxanna Panufnik’s Deus est Caritas, which begins joyously but then introduces a ghostly harmonic strain somewhat at odds with the main music. They collide quite a bit, but skilfully, and it’s always under control. This carefully assembled collection is a good way of comparing many current ways of writing choral music and how they work.