Tim's Top Ten Larger Choirs
Here is another list of larger choirs which have given me much pleasure over the years and are frequent visitor to Gloria. Just as the Chamber Choirs often reduce their vocal numbers where the music demands, so too those on this list generally only number over 20 in romantic and contemporary works and indeed even cut to one voice to a part for some of the earlier repertoire. As listeners will know, to my mind vibrato is the enemy and in big choirs especially can creep in, especially in the top line, especially when forte and above and of course in the romantic repertoire. I don't see why the motets of Brahms and Mendelssohn should be any less in tune than those of Bach and the choirs I've chosen bring characterful and appropriate readings to pieces from all periods without resorting to 19th century operatic wobbling!! Any recordings by these choirs will be good but I suggest a favourite. Do remember that record companies delete and re-release at a great rate so do check the numbers. Again I recommend the website of Presto Classical and visits to the Choirs' websites are well worthwhile.
Tim Thurston - November 2012
1. POLYPHONY Stephen Layton's choir has produced many excellent programmes on Hyperion with superb balance and intonation their hallmark. James MacMillan, John Tavener, John Rutter, Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen and Peter Cornelius have all benefited from Layton's thoughtful reading and they've also recorded a great Messiah. Many will remember their concert imaginatively bringing together the music of Arvo Part and Francis Poulenc in the RTÉ Living Music Festival in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin in 2008, in the presence of Arvo Part. My CD Choice: HYPERION - HANDEL MESSIAH - CDA67800
2. ESTONIAN PHILHARMONIC CHAMBER CHOIR It's not just in the music of Baltic composers that this choir shines - their Mozart on the brilliant German Carus label under Tonu Kaljuste is as good as any. Paul Hillier's time with the EPCO with Harmonia Mundi was very fruitful but it was Kaljuste who conducted them on their Irish tour in 2007. Their cycle of Part's Penitential Psalms "Pokajanen" in the Pro-Cathedral was breathtaking - the bass line especially. You will find their recording of Rachmaninov's Vespers on my Desert Island List.
My CD Choice (after the Rachmaninov): HARMONIA MUNDI - AN ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS HMX2927410.
3. RIAS KAMMERCHOR This is a superb choir based in Berlin who, mainly on the Harmonia Mundi label, have brought us many fine recordings of music from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and especially contemporary eras. They have worked under the finest choral conductors including Rene Jacobs, Hans-Christoph Rademann, Uwe Gronostay, Marcus Creed and their current director, Daniel Reuss. They are a perfect example of how a large choir can sing with considerable power without much vibrato. The Irish bass, Andrew Redmond, currently sings with them. My CD Choice: HARMONIA MUNDI - JOHANN LUDWIG BACH - TRAUERMUSIK - HMC902080
4. ACCENTUS The French Naïve label is full of lovely recordings and Laurence Equilbey's choir Accentus, founded in 1991, are a major attraction to the label. French choral music is fully represented (though not from the baroque era). Their 2 CDs - and a DVD - of choral transcriptions are particularly fine. My CD Choice: NAÏVE - TRANSCRIPTIONS - V5151
5. EX CATHEDRA The most frequently performed works on Gloria by Jeffrey Skidmore's Birmingham based choir are taken from three unique programmes of baroque music from the New World on Hyperion. They brought such a programme to the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2005 and it was a most beautiful experience. They have also recorded lovely programmes of music by Gabrieli, Lassus, Vivaldi and from the French Baroque, and a lovely Bach St. Matthew Passion. My CD Choice: HYPERION - FIRE BURNING IN SNOW - CDA67600
6. MONTEVERDI CHOIR John Eliot Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir has long held a top position among UK choirs. Their Bach recordings are among the very best - first on Deutsche Grammophon's early music imprint, Archiv, and in recent years on their own label SDG. Their Bach Cantata recordings from the amazing 'Pilgrimage', performing all of Bach's Cantatas around the world in 2000 (the 250th anniversary of his death) was a towering achievement. Since the end of this cycle SDG have produced a fine recording of the works of Sebastian's cousin Johann Christian and a new St. John Passion. My CD Choice: SDG - BACH CHRISTMAS CANTATAS - 2CDs - SDG174
7. NETHERLANDS CHAMBER CHOIR It was a small Dutch label, Globe, which introduced me to a number of first class recordings by this superb choir, both of the core choral repertoire and also some more unusual fare - a mass by Paul Hindemith, music by Martinu, Kodaly, Distler, Milhaud and Penderecki. Their early music, Bach motets, Andrea Gabrieli etc. are excellent too - and of course the early Dutch master Sweelinck. My CD Choice: GLOBE - A.GABRIELI - GLO5210
8. COLLEGIUM VOCALE Philippe Herreweghe has been one of the towering choral conductors for many years. He founded Collegium Vocale while still a medical student in Ghent over 40 years ago, then Ensemble Vocal Europeen (I don't know how they failed to get on to the top 10 list of smaller choirs!), and then Paris based L'Orchestre de Champs Elysees and the choir La Chapelle Royale. Any of their recordings on Harmonia Mundi from Josquin to Kurt Weill may be warmly recommended and in the last couple of years they have released on their own record label Phi, whose first issues, Bach Motets, Victoria Requiem, Brahms have been excellent. My CD Choice: HARMONIA MUNDI - MOZART - CMINOR MASS - HMC901393
9. TENEBRAE Tenebrae on Signum guarantee musical excellence - and some interesting contemporary choral repertoire. Signum is a small UK independent label which punches far above its weight. It has The King's Singers and other good choirs and the recordings by Tenebrae (directed by ex-King's Singer Nigel Short) are wonderful. My CD Choice: SIGNUM - SONGS OF FAREWELL - SIGCD267
10. LE CONCERT SPIRITUEL and LES ARTS FLORISSANTS I think even French music lovers will agree that American William Christie single-handedly breathed new light into the music of the French baroque. The delightful sounds of Charpentier, Couperin, Lully and Rameau and a host of lesser names first came to our ears through recordings by his Ensemble, Les Arts Florissants. He has also been responsible for introducing many new young singers to the world stage and, like so many such directors, he has moved forward and his readings of Mozart have received much acclaim. If Christie was the pioneer, Herve Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel - very French! - carry the banner, with many recordings on Naxos and more recently on the wonderful Spanish Glossa label. They too have delighted Kilkenny audiences and their 2012 BBC Prom, performing Handel's Fireworks and Water Music with braying natural horns, 2 baroque contra-bassoons and 24 baroque oboes and bassoons, was quite thrilling. Well worth a DVD! My CD Choice: LES ARTS FLORISSANTS - HARMONIA MUNDI - CHARPENTIER - TE DEUM - HMG501298 LE CONCERT SPIRITUEL - GLOSSA - LULLY - GRANDS MOTETS - NAXOS 8503229