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GRAMOPHONE ( 08/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

Joël Suhubiette’s name was previously familiar to me as the director of Ensemble Jaques Moderne, and his career as singer and later as choral conductor is a distinguished one. He founded Les Éléments over 20 years ago, honing them to a now very impressive standard.

Anyone who has visited Toulouse, the ensemble’s home, will acknowledge its cultural proximity to the Iberian peninsula, which may explain the orientation of this engaging, finely wrought programme, spanning nearly eight centuries. While that breadth undoubtedly carries an element of risk, they seem equally at home in one of the Cantigas de Santa Maria as in the contemporary pieces: at no point does one sense that the appropriate style has been ‘pasted on’ (though admittedly the use of solmisation syllables as the text of one of the pieces from the Codex Las Huelgas feels odd). What’s more, their unanimity of purpose (a favourite phrase of mine in this context) is such as not all professional choirs achieve. The Golden Age polyphony is clearly delivered and outgoing, even in the penitential pieces. Victoria’s O magnum mysterium, so often a slightly soppy misterioso, is here a gentle Christmas piece, and his Alma redemptoris mater is just lovely.

Technically the show-stoppers are the new pieces: the beginning of Iván Solano’s Cielo arterial is bracing like a cold shower, and the soprano’s stratospheric high notes at the end, wafted along by a collective glissando, force admiration. (Here and in António Chagas Rosa’s Lumine clarescet, harmonically dense passages come across with great clarity.)

Programmes combining early and modern may be experiencing a return of popularity but they are seldom better integrated or executed than here. I’m puzzled, however, by the omission of timings in all track-listings. Why?

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