Since conductor and musicologist Harry Christophers formed the Sixteen in Oxford, England, more than 20 years ago, he's only had to dismiss two singers, even as the choir's roster has grown from 16 to more than 20. He's assembled a crew of quick learners with flexible temperaments and perfectly complementary voices, and his aesthetic guidance has elevated the group to the very top of its field. At first the Sixteen focused on English church music of the Tudor era, much of it from the libraries of the University of Oxford, and their greatest strength is still the revival of neglected pieces from that period. But over the years they've broadened their repertoire to include liturgical works from later eras and other countries, including those of Britten, Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Bernstein. Among their numerous CDs--more than 70, at last count--are a five-volume set of music from the Eton College choir book and an album of a cappella pieces first heard in the 1550s in the court of Queen Mary and her consort Philip. Even more noteworthy is an ongoing series on the Spanish master of vocal counterpoint, Tomas Luis de Victoria--a composer who's been grievously underrecorded, at least in comparison to his contemporary Palestrina. Victoria's work isn't as gracious or intricate as the Italian's, but it's distinguished by a heady mix of broad expressivity, rapturous mysticism, and fierce devotion that's reminiscent of El Greco's paintings--a stark contrast to the chaste restraint that characterized most polyphonic music of the time. The 16th-century sampler that the Sixteen will present here includes two pieces by Victoria, Vadam et circuibo and Vidi speciosam; four by Palestrina, including the celebrated gem Duo ubera tua; and two from Englishman William Byrd, Mass for Four Voices and Ave Maria. This is the group's Chicago debut. Tuesday, April 3, 8 PM, Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut; 312-787-4570 or 312-787-2729 ext. 600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nick White.