Choral group ORA Singers is at its best with Stella

After a long period of stagnation, choral music is awakening again thanks to an ambitious new generation of choirs and composers. Activity is widespread, from small professional choirs commissioning new pieces to the massive popularity of works by Eric Whitacre, Karl Jenkins and others.

ORA Singers, founded by Suzi Digby, has been a prominent player. The group commissions new pieces to rub shoulders with the masterpieces of the Renaissance choral tradition and the juxtapositions invariably show the wide range of composers today.

This album, Stella, is the last in their “Renaissance Gems and their Reflections” series, featuring texts relating to the Virgin Mary. In this third volume, the focus is on the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria, whose music is paired with six parallel contemporary settings.

Four of them were commissioned by ORA Singers. Mark Simpson’s ‘Ave Maria’ is the most moving, a setting of reverential beauty, though it is performed in close proximity to Alexander Campkin’s darker, otherworldly ‘Ave Regina caelorum’. A more astringent modern idiom is explored in Francisco Coll’s “Stella” and there are innovative techniques in the echo, ripple and overlapping effects of Julian Wachner’s “Regina caeli”. The other two – Cecilia McDowall’s “Alma Redemptoris” and Will Todd’s “Vidi Speciosam” – are no less individual.

In all of this, and in the Victoria originals, ORA Singers and Suzi Digby are at their best. Simpson’s and Wachner’s pieces, in particular, would make fine, short centerpieces for ambitious choirs.

★★★★☆

Stella: Renaissance Gems and Their Reflections Vol. 3‘ is published by Harmonia Mundi

About Raymond Lang

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