Ancient & modern
by Jason Victor Serinus
The Orlando Consort and Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Scattered Rhymes (Harmonia Mundi)
This marvelous disc of ancient and modern music, much of it sacred, takes its name from contemporary composer Tarik O'Regan's Scattered Rhymes. O'Regan completed his harmonically complex yet tonally accessible 16-minute work for unaccompanied male vocal quartet and choir in 2006, when he was 28. He composed Scattered Rhymes after receiving inspiration from Guillaume de Machaut's astonishingly modern-sounding Messe de Nostre Dame, which is also included on the CD. Probably composed in the 1360s, Machaut's is not only the first complete mass setting we know of, but also one of the earliest examples of polyphony (independent lines of music that weave around and through each other to create a unified sonic fabric).
In addition to two compositions by O'Regan and the works by Machaut that inspired them, the CD also contains a recent work by England's Gavin Bryars. Continuing the recording's theme, it is paired with the 15th century composition by Guillaume Dufay from which it springs.
Singing and music are of the highest order. The superb UK-based Orlando Consort (a countertenor, two tenors, and baritone), founded in 1988, is paired with the straight-faced Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, especially known for its recordings of the spiritual music of Estonian composer Arvo PŠrt and Veljo Tormis. Now under the direction of Paul Hillier, founder of the renowned Hilliard Ensemble, choir members sing with a soaring, innocent resonance that inspires the deepest respect. This disc will likely be in the running for multiple awards later in the year. It's that good.