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John Sheppard has become Tudor polyphony ‘flavour of the month’ with new recordings constantly arriving, so i’ll begin with two contrasting approaches. The children and men of the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, engage fearlessly with every challenge in John Sheppard – Sacred Choral Music. Like their Taverner disc, there’s a barely contained crackling energy, electrifying to experience. This ‘in your face’ imperative delivery is not about intricate refinements of vocal production but, rather, reforging an antique spiritual coinage, fresh-minted in the zealous furnace of youth.The kid gloves come out for the serene, sophisticated, safer, ‘let’s reveal a treasure’ approach of The Sixteen in The Voice of the Turtle Dove : Sheppard, Davy, Mundy, making for reverently moulded, undemanding listening. The former commands ‘fall to your knees and pray’, while the latter elegantly proposes contemplation of the heavens.

If Sheppard’s certainty of eternity seems distant today, the hooty, mannered style of the cathedral choirs of 60 years ago is, thankfully, a lost world, almost parodied by this reissued 1962 recording of Batten and Dering, Tudor Church Music from the Choir of Peterborough Cathedral, with wraithlike yet sprightly interpretations evocative of ghostly owls haunting the cloisters.

REBECCA TAVENER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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