Some years ago the British magazine, Gramophone published a list of the world’s 20 top choirs. Most of these were from the UK, the rest from Europe. No American choirs made the list, not even Chanticleer. If that list were to be redone for 2018, the Boston-based group, Skylark would be a serious contender. This Passiontide program was conceived by Skylark’s artistic director, Matthew Guard for a Skylark concert in the Holy Week Festival run by Tenebrae, one of the UK’s most exciting choirs. That Tenebrae is an inspiration for Skylark and that theirs is a cordial relationship says much.

Skylark’s extraordinary breadth of programming (spirituals, shape-note hymns, Hildegard of Bingen, Poulenc, Sheppard and contemporary Scandinavian scores) is matched by an enviable depth of interpretation. One of the many things that makes Skylark a cut above is that each piece is sung so idiomatically. This counters the perception that American choirs have less versatile tone than their British equivalents.

Tuning and ensemble are never less than first class, but beyond the razor-sharp technique there is a disarming sense of emotional honesty. Whether it’s the final “tremble” in Were You There, or the opening dark rumble of Pann Heilaga Kross by Thorvaldsdottir, or the colourful intensity of Vinea Mea Electa of Poulenc, Skylark does go to the heart of the matter. After hearing this disc, they’re sure to go to the top of your list.

Composer: William Billings, John Newton, Robert Shaw/Alice Parker, Hugo Distler, Hildegard von Bingen, Frederick Buckley, Poulenc, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Gerre Hancock, John Sheppard, William Bradbury, Charlotte Elliott
Composition: Choral music
Performer: Skylark/Matthew Guard
Catalogue Number: Sono Luminus DSL92219

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