HARRY Christophers’ vocal group The Sixteen reached York Minster on Wednesday on their annual nationwide Choral Pilgrimage. This year, they are contrasting Tudor composer William Cornysh with Benjamin Britten.

Cornysh possibly provided music for Henry VIII’s Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520; he certainly wrote some golden music. His Salve Regina gives ample opportunity for The Sixteen to demonstrate their dynamic range, tonal depth and opulence, through caressing gentleness at O Clemens to outraged anguish at Pro Nobis Flagellato. The clever little round Ah, Robin, Gentle Robin was perhaps over-burnished, imbued with too much reverence, but The Sixteen’s approach suited the lament Woefully Array’d, consummately sustaining its soaring melodies, with shapely phrasing and outstanding individual contributions.

The two vocal groups in Britten’s precocious Hymn To The Virgin were antiphonally effective, but not sonically contrasted; Advance Democracy, propaganda from 1938, was brilliantly done, the “thud of marching feet” across Europe truly menacing. His wartime Hymn to St Cecilia, setting Auden, sounds astonishingly contemporary—or perhaps this style of choral writing is now back in vogue.

In Britten’s last choral work, Sacred And Profane from the mid-1970s, The Sixteen captured brilliantly the understated, moving tenderness of the little masterpiece that is Yif Ic Of Luve Can and the naughty, valedictory humour of A Death.

They clearly love this music: already they must have performed this same programme at least a dozen times, and although they aren’t yet half way on their pilgrimage, they still make it sound fresh.

Robert Gammon