The Sixteen/Christophers, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Showing no signs at all of the weariness of a traveller, The Sixteen is still on the first leg of its annual choral pilgrimage around British cathedrals and concert halls before venturing abroad. Its quest this year is to explore the music of the greatest composer of the Spanish Renaissance, Tomas Luis de Victoria.

A whole evening of Victoria, who wrote only church music, may seem daunting. Yet, when the programme combines some of his loveliest motets composed for Holy Week, along with some settings of Marian Antiphons and the sublime Requiem of 1605, for which he is best known, the audience in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall could hardly fail to be beguiled.

However, listeners wishing to submerge themselves totally in Victoria's thrilling vocal lines and sumptuous harmonies may have been dismayed by the additional and, to me at least, unwelcome distraction of a sign-language interpreter on stage. Whatever additional message was being conveyed by Paul Whittaker's arms and hands, there couldn't have been much left to add to the words - the Latin texts with English translations provided in the programme - and Harry Christophers' compellingly eloquent gestures. Up on his toes, it's a crescendo; fingers fluttering gently downwards, it's a diminuendo. No one has a more expressive body than Christophers, always a reliable physical representation of what the music sounds and feels like.

Luckily for The Sixteen, Whittaker was out of their line of vision. Unperturbed by extraneous activity, the singers (actually 18) displayed unfailing musicality and sense of line, refined but not over-restrained.

Earthiness might seem irreverent, even in the buoyant setting of "Nigra sum" ("I am black but beautiful") from the Song of Songs, or in the intimate description "Dilectus meus candidus et rubicundus" ("My beloved is white and ruddy"), but The Sixteen can certainly sound ecstastic. It's surprising just how many degrees of dark intensity, passion even, can be achieved within the cool confines of vocal discipline and homogeneity of tone and style this music demands.

But if organisations such as The Sixteen need to be seen to be doing more for deaf listeners, then much more sensitive and practical consideration has to be given to the effect signing has on the majority of the paying audience.

Touring to 4 November (01865 305305; www.thesixteen.com)

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