CD review: Mala punica

First published in the Guardian on 11 May, 2017

James Weeks: Mala Punica, Walled Garden
Exaudi/Hortus Ensemble/Weeks (Winter & Winter)

This is a seductive thing: lush, finespun music by James Weeks performed by his peerless vocal ensemble EXAUDI and the excellent instrumentalists of the Netherlands-based Hortus Ensemble — artfully recorded, too, by the Winter & Winter label. Mala punica (the name means pomegranate) is a set of eight pieces based on the Egyptian and Mesopotamian love poems of the Song of Songs. Walled Garden comprises three pieces for strings and flute trios that weave around the voices to create the image of an enclosed aural garden where beautiful sounds can grow. Weeks hones in on horticultural imagery in the texts so we get vine tendrils and flowers waving in the breeze, all treated with a close, gentle sensuality that shimmers and beguiles but never gets lurid. There’s a refinement and definition to the writing that sounds just right in EXAUDI’s chiselled-but-definitely-not-chaste delivery.