Eventide by Voces8: Transcendence at Twilight

EventideIn Eventide, the beautiful new album on the Decca Classics label from British choral group Voces8, the listener is asked to pause, as the lengthening shadows begin to stretch across the floor ahead of nightfall.  Through a sampling of old and new musical compositions, the men and women of Voces8 and the musicians accompanying them demonstrate considerable polish and talent.  Yet more importantly, by calling us to adopt a reflective mood as daylight departs, they evoke a sense of timeless stillness, which many of us could benefit from seeking out more often in our lives.

Beginning with the first track, a “Te Lucis Ante Terminum” by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Voces8 make clear that this musical reverie is going to be of an echoing, ethereal quality.  “Reflexionem” by British composer Patrick Hawes (born 1958), and featuring the outstanding cellist Matthew Sharp, does exactly what its name implies.  I could easily imagine myself in the pew, after having received the Eucharist, and listening to this piece as I focus my attention on things above, while at the same time reflecting on things below.

The real standout of the entire album is “Second Eve”, by the young Norwegian composer and Julliard alum Ola Gjeilo (born 1978).  Using the Ave Maria wand references from other Marian texts, the pieces references historical singing styles but nevertheless feels contemporary, in the best sense of that word, layering melody with harmonies and counterpoint in ways that are somewhat unusual, but beautifully performed by Voces8.  There is a combination of sweetness with a sense of anxiety in the first half of the performance, which turns unexpectedly into something more triumphant and aspirational by the end.  This piece deserves to become better-known among both ecclesiastical and secular choral music directors.

Other noteworthy tracks are the deeply atmospheric, majestic, and beautifully performed “Os Justi” by Bruckner (1824-1896), Franz Beibl’s (1906-2001) well-known Camelot-era “Ave Maria”, and closing out the album, a different “Te Lucis Ante Terminum”, this time by an unknown Medieval composer.  This final track becomes more complex as it proceeds, as more voices are layered in.  The recording eventually returns to the simplicity and silence with which it and indeed the album itself began, reminding one of the instructional words in the Order of Mass for Holy Thursday, “All depart in silence.”

If you are a choral singer, choir director, or musician yourself, I suspect that several of the pieces and composers on this album will be unfamiliar to you, making this an opportunity to add to your repertoire.  For those seeking music for meditation and prayer, you will find the album very helpful, in that it is not an obtrusive work.  Rather, as the album’s title implies, there is a recognition that one needs to slow down and refocus at the end of the day.  And dare I say it, those of you who simply need something playing in the background, to study or work by, will find this recording softens an anxious mind and heart, in order to better focus on what needs doing.

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If you’re interested in the chance to win a free copy of “Eventide” by Voces8, I’m hosting a giveaway courtesy of Decca Classics.  You can enter to win by following this link, and providing me with your name and email address – one entry per reader, please.  You may enter any time between now and Midnight Eastern tomorrow.  The winner will be selected at random, and announced here on the blog this Friday, June 20th. Best of luck!

Voces8 Group Photo

The members of Voces8

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