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GRAMOPHONE (05/2021)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

It’s difficult to believe that the first work you hear on this album has never been recorded before. For sure pacing and deft execution of details, Robert White’s Domine, non est exaltatum is hard to fault: the entry in the top part that ushers in the final verse is like an unobtrusive but skilfully planned surprise. I’ve long had a soft spot for this composer, two of whose works have been chosen to bookend this recital, and welcome the chance to be reminded why. In between are several other first recordings (including one by Byrd, no less).

All the pieces on this recital are psalm motets. They round off Contrapunctus’s three-part exploration of the Baldwin Partbooks in fine style. There’s a rich variety of moods, from the solemnity of White’s contributions and desolation in Byrd’s Tristitia et anxietas to the jubilation of Parson’s Dominus, quis habitabit and of the anonymous Confitebor tibi – another gem of a first recording. John Mundy’s In te Domine speravi outstays its welcome at the end but he plainly inherited more than his share of his father’s skill; this slightly ‘phoned-in’ passage is more than made up for by no fewer than three helpings of Byrd.

The programming alone would warrant a strong recommendation but it’s more than matched by Contrapunctus’s advocacy. They are in cracking form here, with no discernible weak link in the ensemble: honey-toned and purposeful sopranos, assertive countertenors and everything on down to match. Owen Rees’s direction is sharp and incisive: his reading of the Parsons, for example, makes the most of an exceptionally engaging piece. Technical security, that fabled ‘Rolls-Royce quality’, is the English choral tradition’s calling card; you get it here as well, but Rees really encourages the singers to respond to all the different affects that this accomplished recital offers.

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