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Music Review: Les Voix Baroques – Canticum Canticorum

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Canticum Canticorum is a brilliant artistic-marketing tipple point by the Canadian period ensemble Les Voix Baroques. Canticum Canticorum is Latin for Song of Songs or The Song of Solomon, a slim and unusual book found in the Hebrew Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament. Reputedly written by King Solomon or an agent, the Song of Songs is thought to have been authored between 200 and 100 BCE.

The Song of Songs is a singular book in both Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Clerics promote the songs as an allegorical representation of the relationship of God and Israel as husband and wife. When read out of context, the songs reveal an erotic, if not singularly carnal collection of love poetry. This dichotomy of the sacred and carnal has made the Song of Songs a favorite among composers since the Renaissance.

Les Voix Baroques, under the direction of founder Matthew White, has collected 16 settings of the Songs that span from John Dunstable and the 15th Century to Sir William Walton and the 20th Century, spanning late Medieval England, Renaissance Italy, Baroque Germany and France, and 20th Century Canada and England. The group nimbly dispatches each of the tectonic periods of choral music with a period instrument and performance flair. Interestingly, the most striking settings are those of the Canadian Willan and Walton. These most recent additions to the canon stand up well with those of the Alte Musik warhorse composers.

The sonics of this ATMA Classique recording are pristine and crystalline. The entire set possesses a Renaissance oil portrait patina, even in the more recent compositions. But this is not a dusty or dank patina. It is vibrant and colorful, sensual and pious. This may be the "classical" recording of the year.

Selections:

Motet Veni in hortum meum, Lassus (1532-1594); Motet Osculetur me osculo oris sui, Palestrina; Concerto Anima mea liquefacta est SWV 263, Schütz (1585-1672); Concerto Adjuro vos SWV 264, Schütz; Dialogo della cantica, Mazzocchi (1592-1665); Motet Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One, Willan (1880-1968); Motet I Beheld Her, Beautiful as a Dove; Willan; Motet Set Me as a Seal upon Thine Heart, Walton (1902-1983); Verse anthem My Beloved Spake, Tomkins (1572-1656); Motet Ego dormio SWV 63, Schütz; Motet Vulnerasti cor meum SWV 64, Schütz; Petit motet Dilecti mi H. 436, Charpentier (1643-1704); Passacaille, Marais; Antienne Pulchra es et decora H. 52, Charpentier Motet Quam pulchra es, Dunstable (1390-1453); Verse anthem My Beloved Spake Z. 28, Purcell (1659-1695).

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About C. Michael Bailey

I am sanctified and Southern fried, My mama tried and daddy cried; I tell the truth 'cept when I've lied And I like my huevos on the side...