Few discs have ever afforded me more pleasure than that which I have derived from this splendidly conceived anthology of sacred music. In his introduction to the accompanying booklet (itself a model which others would be hard-pressed to emulate, never mind excel), producer John Rutter describes the album's theme as being 'the music of heaven and our journey to heaven'. Divided into three sections, it embraces an exceptionally wide-ranging selection from the Christian music of remembrance, hope and fulfilment which accompanies the rites of passage from mortal to eternal life.
Each of the three sections—At our departing, Towards the gate of heaven and The heavenly kingdom—begins with an extract from the plainsong Missa pro Defunctis. The Clare College choir (numbering 26 singers) is equally at home with the spare textures of these extracts (and the other medieval pieces) as it is with the lusher pastures of Harris's Faire is the heaven and Holst's extraordinarily visionary The evening-watch. No less memorable is its handling of the two spirituals (Brown's own arrangement of Steal Away is particularly striking). Security of pitch (every item is unaccompanied), precision of ensemble, purity of tone and perfect balance are merely some of the choir's outstanding qualities.
The performance is much enhanced by the resonant acoustic of the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral. High praise must also be given to John Rutter, not only for his production skills but also for inspiring the concept of this unique disc. Indeed, I can fault it in only two small details: I disagree with Brown's interpretation of the plainsong note-grouping known as the quilisma; and there is slight distortion in some climaxes.