Daniel Taylor & The Trinity Choir: The Path to Paradise
Sony Classical

The word sublime should never be used lightly, but if ever a collection of music warrants the term it's this one. In keeping with its title, this latest recording by Daniel Taylor and the Trinity Choir, their follow-up to Four Thousand Winter and the Juno-nominated The Tree of Life, offers a direct route to paradise, its figurative access achieved when the immediate space is filled with its glorious vocal performances. The set-list is dominated by choral works from the sixteenth century, the two by Arvo Pärt obvious exceptions. His pieces, as anyone familiar with the Estonian composer's output will have already guessed, sit comfortably alongside those by Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Nicolas Gombert, and others. Though their works are set to sacred texts about the soul's lifelong struggle to achieve salvation, The Path To Paradise presents spiritually replenishing music whose rapturous beauty is capable of speaking to the faithful and non-faithful alike.

The group's Artistic Director and currently the Head of Historical Performance in the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music, Taylor has appeared on more than 100 recordings and has been called “Canada's star countertenor” and “Canada's most prolific recording artist.” He founded the Trinity Choir in 2015 to perform choral works composed from the fifteenth century to the present; on this recording, the choir is represented by ten sopranos, eight altos, seven tenors, and seven basses. Soloists featured on the release are sopranos Ellen McAteer, Bronwyn Thies-Thompson, Emilia Morton, and Zoe Brookshaw; mezzo-soprano Hannah Cooke; tenors Hugo Hymas and Sam Boden; countertenor David Clegg; baritones Brian McAlea and Jeff Ledwidge; and basses William Gaunt, Andrew Mahon, and Geoffrey Sirett.

Interesting backstories accompany a few of the pieces. Miserere Mei, Deus, a setting of Psalm 51 written by Gregorio Allegri around 1638, apparently had by the middle of the eighteenth century become so valuable that the Papacy forbade anyone to perform it outside the Sistine Chapel, though that didn't stop Mozart from breaking Vatican law when he, so the legend goes, wrote it down after a single hearing. And in mid-career Nicolas Gombert, here represented by Media Vita, was accused of sexual crimes against children and sentenced to hard labour, yet while imprisoned wrote works of such startling beauty he was eventually pardoned and released.

The choir's magnificent vocal polyphony is on display the moment Tallis's Miserere opens the recording with three pairs of canons shifting at different tempos, the separation between the groups distinct and the sopranos soaring high above the others. As resplendent are John Sheppard's Libera Nos I & II, where again the choir executes its unfolding parts with majestic grace, Gombert's heavenly Media Vita, and Orlando di Lassus's haunting In Monte Oliveti. The longest setting at thirteen minutes, Allegri's Miserere Mei, Deus juxtaposes solo parts and plainchants to alluring effect, especially when the choir's harmonies and the contributions by sopranos Morton and Brookshaw are so bewitching. Pärt's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis are emblematic of his austere style, the former alternating between stark quietude and fortissimo declamations, the latter arresting in the delicate hush of its plangent expression. Interestingly, the vocal performances are punctuated in two places by brief recordings of tolling church bells, but the effect proves enhancing to the overall presentation.

Some recordings reflect back to us the ugliness and corruption of the world; this one presents a glorious realm of transcendent beauty that makes the one around us seem woefully wanting by comparison. Or as is stated in the hour-long release's liner notes, “this music reaches to us across the centuries, speaking beyond speech of the sublime authority of love which pushes against the fragility of our existence.”

December 2017