THE CELTIC COLLECTION: MARGARET RIZZA
Sarum Voices / Ben Lamb · Convivium CR038
This is ‘the CD of the book’, and for a description of the book see Sunday by Sunday Issue 81, or visit www.rscmshop.com/rizza-the-celtic-collection-b0427.html. Sarum Voices sing superbly under Ben Lamb’s direction, with clear diction (and the words are so important in these pieces) and are enhanced by the acoustic of Sarum St Martin in Salisbury. There is an excellent instrumental backing group (including Cathy Lamb on organ). These 18 pieces were not designed to be performed one after the other; listening to them as a sequence like that is not advisable with the danger that one starts to half-listen and treat them as background mood music. Far better is to be selective and concentrate fully on a small number of them: they give much pleasure.
GREAT ANTHEMS FROM LIVERPOOL
Choir of Liverpool Cathedral / Ian Tracey / Daniel Bishop / David Poulter · Priory 1172
The big work here is Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice which receives a full, spacious performance, as is necessary in the huge space of Liverpool Cathedral. The two 21st-century pieces, A Celtic Prayer by Dutch organist Daniel Rouwkema and Philip Stopford’s Do not be afraid, are easy on the ear and have fast gained a place in the repertoire. The CD cover shows part of the Musicians Window at the Cathedral with Byrd in the centre, and it is with Byrd’s Vigilate that the CD begins; it ends with They that go down to the sea in ships by Sumsion, appropriate for the port city of Liverpool. The rest is a diverse mixture of works by Parsons, Gibbons, Purcell, Eccard, Brahms, Darke, Finzi, Bairstow and Howells, many deserving the epithet ‘great anthems’, if some greater than others. All are well sung and doubtless part of the repertoire at the time of the recording, forming a pleasing aural snapshot of the choir at that moment.
MASS OF THE DREAMING
Brisbane Chamber Choir / Graeme Morton · Tall Poppies TP239
Here is an interesting survey of church music by living Australian composers whose music is not as well known as it should be in the UK. All the pieces were written this century, except for Nigel Butterley’s Exultate Dominum of 1961, a lively, rhythmic piece that sounds well within the Anglican church music tradition at that time, if with a touch of Stravinsky, and a world apart from the music of the other ‘senior’ composer on this disc, Ross Edwards. Edwards’s Mass of the Dreaming (2009) combines the exciting rhythms and chants of Australian indigenous peoples with that of Western liturgical music to form a setting that is distinctly Australian and yet with elements of European liturgical traditions. The Brisbane Chamber Choir sounds as though they hugely enjoyed singing it and give a committed but disciplined performance, with a polished sound in a cathedral acoustic. Earlier on the disc comes music by younger composers, a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by Andrew Schultz, parts of a Mass setting by Stephen Leek (also incorporating Australian chant-like singing), a setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Joseph Twist, and anthems by Paul Stanhope, Keren Terpstra and Matthew Orlovich. We may read in the abstract about inculturation theology and its application to the liturgy and its music; these performances are a good way to experience how another culture is embracing Western traditions and making them distinctively its own.
CLOTHS OF HEAVEN
Sansara / Tom Herring / Jack Butterworth / Benjamin Cunningham / Meghan Quinnian · Convivium CR037
The first recording from a chamber choir founded in 2013 comes with endorsements from the choir’s artistic patron, Peter Phillips (‘this might be the a cappella sound of the future’). Its USP is that it has no single conductor but different members of the choir direct according to their interests and specialisms. The enterprise is thus a more collaborative venture than with many choirs, which is shown to advantage on a CD that ranges from Gombert, Byrd and Cardoso to the present day – with works by ‘associate composers’ Marco Galvani and Oliver Tarney as well as Gabriel Jackson, James MacMillan, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and a title track by Malcolm Archer.
The programme moves from darkness to light (MacMillan’s Lux aeterna) as well as from early music to contemporary, and is rewarding to listen to in its entirety as a single, carefully planned sequence. Its centrepiece is Gustav Holst’s Nunc Dimittis, a work that in a way encapsulates the whole disc as it moves from a quiet, Tudor-church-music-influenced opening to a spectacular depiction of the light to enlighten the people. The singing deserves the superlatives that already come attached to it: the sound is youthful, pure and clear, yet also with a vibrant richness (congratulations to the recording engineers as well), intonation is spot on, and there is a commitment to the words and music that is engrossing. A most impressive debut disc!
ORGANS OF THE LAKE DISTRICT
Ian Hare · Priory 1177
This might sound like a rather specialist CD but there is a wealth of music by composers connected with the area and some interesting instruments to record at St Kentigern, Crosthwaite (with its organ of 46 speaking stops split between north and south cases), St Oswald, Grasmere (where Ian Hare is now organist), St Patrick, Patterdale and the organ of Lancaster Cathedral (pushing the boundaries, but the Roman Catholic diocese of Lancaster includes the Lake District). There is music by Gordon Cameron, Reginald Dixon, G.F. Handel (hardly a Lake District composer, but the arranger of the Overture to the Occasional Oratorio, W.T. Best, was born in Carlisle), F.W. Wadely, Cumbrian music publisher and composer Adrian Self, Ian Hare himself, Sir Arthur Somervell (born in Applethwaite – this piece is also a transcription) and Armstrong Gibbs who provides the final music, his Six Sketches of which the last, ‘Processional March’, brings the disc to a jubilant conclusion. Ian Hare is a polished performer and makes a convincing case for all the composers.
Daniel Cook plays the organ of Westminster Abbey · Priory 1175
This is an unashamedly popular programme including Walton’s march Orb and Sceptre, Cocker’s Tuba Tune, Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster and Grainger’s Handel in the Strand. Bach is represented by Daniel Cook’s own transcription of the so-called ‘Air on the G string’ and by the Toccata and Fugue in F, which joins Whitlock’s big Fantasie Choral in D flat and Dupré’s Prelude and Fugue in B in providing a more heavyweight core to the disc. After those, Vierne’s Carillon is joined by Eric Coates ‘Westminster’ from his London Suite. To conclude, perhaps inevitably, we have Elgar’s march Pomp and Circumstance no. 1 given a performance with panache and grandeur that typifies the whole disc. Priory describes the CD as reflecting the pomp and ceremony that frequents the Abbey on royal and other important occasions. That it does, and also, given the paucity of recordings of this famous organ, provides a showcase for the Harrison and Harrison instrument, the Abbey acoustic, and an organist who knows so well how to get best from both.
John Kitchen plays the organ of the McEwan Hall, University of Edinburgh · Delphian DCD34163
This disc also features pomp and ceremony, containing music that the University Organist might play during ceremonies in the purpose-built graduation hall on its Hope-Jones/Willis organ. And lucky the graduates who hear this music played live with the panache and technical assurance captured here, not least in the centrepiece of the disc, Kenneth Leighton’s 17-minute Et Resurrexit. Surrounding that work is a wide variety of music from Purcell, Campra and Handel to Cecilia McDowall’s Celebration. Other joyful, celebratory pieces include Hollins’s C major Concert Overture, Widor’s Marcia from Symphony no. 3, Salomé’s Grand Choeur in G and Guilmant’s Marche Religieuse (on a tune by Handel). Well recommended for a rousing evening of listening.