Choral Music, March 2015

UPPER VOICES

33 SPIRITUALS FOR UPPER VOICES [E/M]
arranged by Graham Buckland
S or SSA and piano
Bärenreiter BA7572 £15.00
Here is a useful collection, with the best-known spirituals (Deep river, O happy day, Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Swing low, sweet chariot, Were you there, Steal away, When the saints go marching in and many others), some lesser known, and one that has been ‘adopted’ as a spiritual, Amazing grace, with words by John Newton and music from Scotland or Ireland. All work well with unison voices and the piano part provided, but singers will want to add the extra idiomatic SA parts to round out the varied textures. Choirs already using the SATB 64 Spirituals a cappella from the same arranger (reviewed in Sunday by Sunday 60, March 2012) will find that these arrangements are compatible. The religious sincerity and fervour of Afro-American spirituals continues to appeal to young singers as well as adults: this is an excellent introduction to some of the best of them.
Stephen Patterson

AVE VERUM CORPUS [E]
Will Todd
Two-part upper voices and piano
Boosey & Hawkes BH 12945 £1.99
Not to be confused with Will Todd’s earlier Ave verum corpus for mixed voices, this short, straightforward setting is taken from Todd’s Songs of Peace. A haunting melody (which would be a useful exercise in reading and pitching for a young choir, with rising octaves, sevenths, fifths and fourths within four bars) lies above relaxed piano figuration. The second verse adds a second part to the tune with lots of canonic imitation, and the end is simple and satisfying.

FEAR THOU NOT [M/D]
Mårten Jansson
Five-part upper voices SSMezzoAA
Bärenreiter BA7411 £3.50
Jansson is a choral conductor, teacher and composer based in Uppsala, Sweden. The words of this little motet are taken from Isaiah 41.10, starting ‘Fear thou not for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God.’ Ostinatos and pedals give a sense of security and steadiness appropriate for the text, while the music describes a huge arch, starting with one part, expanding to five by bar 20,and growing in range and dynamic to a triple forte climax before subsiding again with the opening music and words – but, instead of contracting to a unison, it comes to rest on a five-part C major chord. Written for one of Sweden’s foremost female choirs, it demands a wide range: second altos are allowed optional higher notes where the music descends to E flat and C below middle C, but first sopranos need to ring out with top Cs on two occasions. For choirs able to tackle this, it would be a rewarding piece.

CANTATE DOMINO [E]
Tim Knight
Unison or two-part and piano
Spartan Press TKM716 £1.60
This is a tuneful and catchy setting of English words, with ‘Cantate Domino’ interjected after each sentence. It is designed to be used flexibly and works in unison, or indeed for a mixed group with upper voices on top and men on the second part. Very easy and unsubtle, it should work under almost any circumstances.

FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE REMAIN [E]
Malcolm Archer
SA and organ or piano
Oxford W175 £1.85
Archer cleverly combines two of the standard wedding texts in a commission for a very special wedding, that of the RSCM’s former Regional Music Adviser, Andrew Robinson, to Laura in 2011. ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love …’ from 2 Corinthians 13 is added to the Song of Solomon’s ‘For love is strong as death …’ to create an anthem about God’s love, suitable for general use as well as at weddings. The organ part and vocal lines (linked by musical motifs) have a relaxed and easy flow, building to a thrilling climax in what is overall a reflective piece.
James L. Montgomery

HOLY WEEK

ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES [M]
Ralph Allwood
SATB with divisions
Novello NOV294800 £1.75
This condensed and expressive anthem was a highlight of the Novello Book of Music for Lent and Easter two years ago. Now available separately, it has a bitter-sweet mixture of major and minor, appropriate for a setting of verses from Jesus’ prayer to his Father, as reported in Matthew’s Gospel. There is a firm but quiet confidence at the end on an F major ‘Thy will be done.’

THE SHADOW OF THY CROSS [D]
Paul Mealor
SATB with divisions
Novello NOV294877 £2.75
The Mealor fingerprints are in the music: slow tempo, repeated divisi chords, low basses and high sopranos, extremes of dynamics, and, it must be admitted, a powerful, overwhelming intensity of expression. This setting of G.A. Studdert Kennedy (‘Woodbine Willie’) was commissioned for a WWI Commonwealth centenary service, but would make its impact in Holy Week and at other services where Jesus on the cross is the focus.
James L. Montgomery

CONTEMPORARY COMPOSERS

SOL JUSTITIAE [E/M]
Alec Roth
SATB (optional S solo)
Edition Peters EP70602 £2.25
UNBORN [M]
Alec Roth
T solo, SATB, organ and processional drum
Edition Peters EP72643 £2.25
JUBILATE [M/D]
Alec Roth
SATB with divisions
Edition Peters EP70603 £5.50
Followers of Jeffrey Skidmore’s Ex Cathedra choir will know the music of Philip Roth – he wrote his 40-part Earthrise for that choir, as well as Unborn reviewed here. Ex Cathedra have also recorded Sol Justitiae, which is a setting of a Latin hymn written by James Barmby whilst he was principal of what is now Hatfield College. The words depict a journey from darkness to light, which starts by addressing the sun of righteousness and finishes with the everlasting light which shines on those washed in the blood of the Lamb – particularly suitable for the ‘Kingdom’ season between All Saints and Advent Sundays. Homophonic, with a gentle lyrical flow and much repetition, it is moderately easy and singable, especially without the optional soprano solo (‘unseen and high up, if possible’).
Unborn, adapted from The Traveller, an oratorio that Roth wrote with Vikram Seth (and heard in Salisbury and Lichfield Cathedrals and Holy Trinity, Sloane Square) is described as ‘a processional introit’. The text is pantheistic, but sung as Ex Cathedra premiered it in a Christmas candlelight concert or service, the ‘single word of truth that brings peace’ will be Christianized and heard as referring to the Word. The choral writing is easy, the tenor solo and organ part less so. In all these pieces there is evidence of the composer’s experience of Asian music, including Javanese gamelan, in the melodies themselves and also in the way they develop by repetition and juxtaposition.
More tricky is the lively setting of the Jubilate written for the 2012 Festival of St Cecilia and subsequently recorded by the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral. The complete Latin text comes first, and then the sopranos/trebles sing it in English with a dancing ATB accompaniment. All voices combine to sing ‘for the Lord is gracious’ and come to rest on ‘everlasting / in aeternum’, before an exhilarating crescendo based on the opening ‘Jubilate Deo’. Although fast, rhythmic, with divisi and with plenty of leaps and sudden contrasts, the notes are easy to pitch and there is much repetition and doubling – for a good parish church choir it would be fun to learn.

SIX ANTHEMS [M/D?D]
David Goode
SATB with divisi, mostly with organ
score and CD
Colin Smythe Ltd 978-0-86140-489-6 £15.00
This is a surprising publication: six anthems presented as a weighty 278-page book, complete with a CD of them performed by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury. As an added bonus, the music of an organ piece by David Goode is included, first in solo and then duet versions: Variations on a theme by Francis Warner, the same Francis Warner, poet and dramatist, who wrote the words for the six anthems. The whole publication and recordings are acknowledged as having been made possible by grants from an anonymous couple: certainly such a publication could not be commercially viable, and indeed it is not very practical for performance, with innumerable page turns, especially where there is one system, sometimes with just two bars, per page. Luckily the pieces are available separately for download (at £2.50 each) on the composer’s website, where the initial pages of each anthem are also reproduced after each relevant poem.
Treated as a study score rather than performance material, this is a handsomely-produced volume that will give pleasure to conductors and others who read the scores and listen to the CD. The anthems are titled by their intended use: Anthem for All Saints’ Day, Anthem for St Catherine’s Day, Anthem for St Cecilia’s Day, Anthem for St Peter’s Day (all SATB and organ), Anthem for the Visitation (unaccompanied) and Anthem for Christ the King (SATB, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones and organ). The music of the anthems with organ often appears driven by the organ part, although the vocal writing is always very singable. There is a strong musical imagination at work, inspired by the poems which lie at their heart.

THE OFFERED CHRIST [D]
James MacMillan
SATB and organ
Boosey & Hawkes 979-0-060-12933-9 £2.75
A commission for the 2013 Southern Cathedrals Festival, this work celebrates the Eucharist in the most vivid fashion. There is a range of typical MacMillan choral writing including highly decorated individual vocal lines, big contrasts, tightly imitative counterpoint contrasting with homophonic movement and gorgeously lyrical phrases extending over a wide vocal range. The work starts with the sopranos/trebles; lower parts enter – altos, then tenors, then basses. After a four part ‘Taste and see how sweet the Lord is. Alleluia’, voices drop out from top down so that there is an ATB section, a TB duet and a final intense bass exhortation to ‘Bless him all ye angels, bless him all ye powers’ with an ever-intensifying Alleluia to lead into a final spectacular full-organ flourish.
Julian Elloway