Sometimes the best discoveries in music aren't pieces that you've never heard before, but those you have, made new by remarkable interpretations. That's certainly the case with Stanford's The blue bird, long a staple of the English choral repertoire, as sung by the Gabrieli Consort on this new recording. The feeling of partial, hovering detachment conductor Paul McCreesh creates between the gently overlapping four-part underlay, and the five sopranos gliding 'across the waters' in unison, is magical, creating the special frisson intended by Stanford as he translated a fleetingly wonderful scene from nature into music. Something similar happens in Elgar's Owls, where McCreesh and his super-sensitive singers distil a gripping sense of mysterious nocturnal rustlings.
At the recital's heart is a breath-catching performance of James MacMillan's Burns setting The gallant weaver. Here the Gabrieli's easeful ability to blend and balance MacMillan's multiple division of the four voice parts conjures a rapt ethereality as pleasure and plangency mingle musingly together. A different type of virtuosity—dashing, cajoling, cackling—turns Jonathan Dove's Who killed cock robin? into an edgy mini-drama flecked by gallows humour, with a startlingly poignant coda. Warlock's All the flowers of spring seeps with an uneasy melancholy, while among a clutch of folk settings Grainger's The three ravens is especially haunting.
This is a beautifully constructed programme, sung with consummate assurance and self-effacing artistry.