The latest release from AimHigher Recordings, now in conjunction with Sony Classical, is a glorious encapsulation of the splendid work of The London Oratory Schola Cantorum Boys Choir, under the direction of the NLM’s own Charles Cole. It is superb in every respect, from the quality of the mastering and engineering, to the selection of repertoire and the creative artistic choices.
Typical of the label’s past releases, the story of the Schola as an ensemble focused on the singing of the Church’s sacred music in the context of the sacred liturgy, and an account of the boys’ lives, which revolve around the demanding schedule and discipline required to execute such a high purpose, come to the fore. The ensemble is no mere showpiece, though they rightly belong to the uppermost tier of boy choirs in the world—they are clearly dedicated to the opus Dei, the offering of the most beautiful and most worthy efforts for the worship of almighty God.
The English Tudor era repertoire on the disc mixes well-known and beloved pieces like the William Byrd (1540–1623) Ave verum corpus and Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585) O nata lux with lesser-known gems like the Missa Euge bone of Christopher Tye (c. 1505–1573).
The opening track of the disc, Haec dies, captures the energetic and expansively glorious lines typical of John Sheppard's (c. 1515–1558) writing through its masterful balance between parts; both treble and lower voices are powerful without being overbearing. The Missa Euge bone is delightful in its charm—surprising textural and harmonic turns abound—and Cole's thoughtful approach to the architecture of each movement through contrast, good pacing, and a mindfulness of the trajectory of lines reflects an understanding of the integral connection between the movement of the sacred liturgy and its sacred music. The tenderness of Robert Parsons' (1535–1571) Ave Maria is captured through the delicate and insistent shaping of phrases. The choice of tempo for Byrd's Ave Verum demonstrates the flexibility of this masterpiece in its ability to inspire and bear varied artistic choices, and Cole's choice of a slower tempo clearly hearkens to the use of the text in elevation motets, capturing the adoration inherent in that liturgical moment, and allowing the striking cross relations to be clearly heard. The choice of the Peter Phillips (c. 1560–1628) Ascendit Deus for the final track of the disc provides a fitting conclusion, having traversed from Easter through different moments of salvation history to Our Lord's going up "in jubilation . . . with the sound of the trumpet." This sparkling setting embodies well what so many composers have found in this brilliance of the text, adding to it the soaring soprano lines emblematic of Phillips' writing.
Visitors to the Brompton Oratory have long known of the musical treasure Catholics have in this institution. How wonderful it is that their work will be made known to a wide audience through the distribution of this disc. My hope is that it will also inspire musicians and pastors to pursue musical excellence in the context of the sacred liturgy, for the greater glory of God. Both this music and this institution demonstrate the great musical heights to which the sacred liturgy can soar when sacred music is treasured, encouraged, and supported as the Church urges in her documents on the sacred liturgy.