Choral Music, March 2016

UPPER VOICES

THE LAMB [M/D]
John Tavener
SSAA
Chester Music CH84304 £1.75
THE LORD’S PRAYER [M]
John Tavener
SA (optional SSAA) and piano or organ
Chester Music CH84326 £1.75
SONG FOR ATHENE [M]
John Tavener
SSAA, solos or semichorus, organ, optional cello
Chester Music CH84337 £2.25

Chester Music have issued separately three of the arrangements by Barry Rose that appeared in their Tavener Choral Music for upper voices anthology. The Lamb is transposed up a minor third to fit the range of sopranos and altos, so that the top soprano note is D. Second altos still need a firm low G to underpin the harmony (and occasional low F sharps) and choir directors may prefer it all another semitone higher.

In The Lord’s Prayer, an arrangement of the 1999 a cappella SATB version, the pitch is unchanged and a piano accompaniment replaces the tenor and bass lines. Song for Athene starts with a solo upper voice singing the opening bass line and then with a three-part choral texture including very low altos singing the original tenor part; at other times the organ replaces most of the tenor and bass music. Notwithstanding some low-lying alto lines, these arrangements work exceptionally well; indeed there are times when Barry Rose, by delaying adding a second part, or altering the way voices are doubled, subtly enhances the originals.

BUILD THIS HOUSE [M/D]
Michael Berkeley
SSA and organ
Oxford W184 £2.20
THE CALL OF WISDOM [E]
Will Todd
SS (or SA) and organ
Oxford W172 £2.20

Michael Berkeley’s setting of verses from Ecclesiasticus and Ezra seems to have started life as part of a cycle of songs for a ‘Historyworks’ project. It was concerned with the building of King’s College, Cambridge, and sung by King’s College choristers plus primary school voices – which may explain the comparatively simple lower parts but exposed top As in the top line. Despite the specific context of its creation, this could be an effective anthem for a good upper-voice choir on the occasion of, or anniversary of, the dedication of a church.

Also written for a specific occasion is Will Todd’s The Call of Wisdom. Its live broadcast from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Service in St Paul’s Cathedral doubtless helped it to find its way into the repertoire more quickly than many new pieces, but it deserves its success. An adaptation of Proverbs 8 by the precentor of St Paul’s, the Revd Canon Michael Hampel, is set to a melody that, just when it sounds as though it needs to find a new direction, does exactly that with the rising seventh that starts its refrain ‘I am here, I am with you’. There is also an SATB publication, but this original upper-voice version has a special freshness.

A PRAYER OF ST PATRICK [E]
Tim Knight
SS (or SA) and piano
Tim Knight Music TKM725 £1.40
DEEP PEACE [E]
David Barton
S (or SA) and piano
Paraclete Press PPM01514 $1.70

Tim Knight’s setting of ‘Christ be with me’ is as simple as it could be, and performable with female or male voices on the second part, or indeed just unison, although it would be a shame to lose the two-part canonic writing when the verse is repeated. The comfortable vocal ranges and straightforward melody make it effective for the smallest of choirs.

David Barton’s approach to ‘Deep peace of the running wave to you’ is similar in concept with a melody derived from a straightforward motif that grows sequentially, with the whole repeated but more intensely the second time, and a brief coda. But instead of Knight’s answering part, Barton’s optional second part supports the melody at its climax on ‘moon and stars pour out their healing light on you’. It is a useful piece for those for whom the Rutter setting presents too many challenges.
James L. Montgomery

EASTER and PENTECOST

SURREXIT A MORTUIS [M]
Charles-Marie Widor
Richard Barnes
SATB and two organs
RSCM / Cathedral Music CM870 £3.00
SURREXIT A MORTUIS [M]
Charles-Marie Widor
Organ part by Richard Hills
SATB and organ
Novello NOV295592 £2.25
CHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY [E/M]
Mack Wilberg
SATB and organ
Oxford 978-0-19-340617-9 £1.85
COME, O CREATOR SPIRIT [M]
Alan Bullard
SATB and organ
Oxford X513 £2.60

Widor’s great ‘Motet Solennel’ for Easter Day is scored in its original form for four-part choir accompanied by two organs. Richard Barnes has resolved differences between the original vocal score and chorus parts to produce a clear and practical modern edition. Richard Hills has made a skilful adaptation for a single organ, mostly keeping the original ‘Grand Orgue’ on Great and the ‘Petit Orgue’ on Swell. Take your pick depending on the number of organs at your disposal: but anyone using Novello’s single organ version should also consult the RSCM edition to see the notes about corrections to the vocal parts. With a large choir and powerful organ(s), this piece sounds spectacular.

The formula of Mack Wilberg’s arrangements for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has become familiar with a unison first verse, four-part harmony middle verse (if just three verses) and unison plus descant final verse – but it remains effective in big bright numbers such as Christ the Lord is risen today. A divisi final ‘Alleluia! Amen!’ rounds off a piece appropriately marked ‘With exultation’.

Alan Bullard alternates the Mechlin plainsong Veni Creator (‘Come, O Creator spirit’), sung in Latin or English, verse by verse with a setting of ‘Breathe on me, breath of God’ that sounds as if it is an elaboration of the plainsong melody. Each verse intensifies in complexity until the fourth verses, which instead of being separate, combine the doxology of Veni Creator with ‘Breathe on me, breath of God, so shall I never die, but live with thee …’ to thrilling effect. A congregation may join with the choir in the Veni Creator verses.

THE DAY OF RESURRECTION (ELLACOMBE) [E]
Stephen Tappe
SATB and organ
Paraclete Press PPM01524 $2.20
EASTER DAY [M]
Carson Cooman
SATB and organ
Paraclete Press PPM01518 $2.90

Stephen Tappe applies in The Day of Resurrection the same formula as described above for the Wilberg piece, although somewhat less adventurously with a four-square introduction and no links between verses. He follows Monk’s original Ellacombe harmonies so the only real composition is in the descant and organ reharmonization of the final verse, which is effective, particularly with a dominant pedal halfway through but somewhat marred by consecutive fifths between descant and melody.

Carson Cooman is far more ambitious in his Opus 997 (and he is only in his mid-40s, although many of his individually opus-numbered pieces are very short – he has now reached Op. 1136!). A setting of Easter by Gerard Manley Hopkins (whose first name, alas, is printed as Gerald in the score) and with the verses reordered, it alternates 6/8 and 3/4 in its outer sections which fizz along with interest alternating between organ and choir, and with much variety of texture. A more lyrical setting of verse 3 acts as a welcome moment of repose and thought. It is an accomplished piece by an experienced composer.
James L. Montgomery

EVENING SERVICE

THREE CHOIRS SERVICE (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) [M/D
Bob Chilcott
SATB and organ
Oxford BC193 £2.90

This was one of seven commissions for the 300th-anniversary Three Choirs Festival last year. Rather than allowing the presence of the three cathedral choirs to inspire a complex setting, Chilcott has written two pieces that many parish choirs will be able to enjoy singing, in four parts with only occasional divisi. The setting comprises two quite separate pieces, distinct in key, metre, melodic material and not sharing a common Gloria. One or other would be a good choice for a service where only a Magnificat or a Nunc dimittis is required.
Stephen Patterson

WEDDINGS AND FUNERALS

BELOVED, LET US LOVE [E/M]
Alan Bullard
SATB and organ or piano
Oxford X603 £1.85

Here is a lovely piece to sing at a wedding, either during the signing of the registers, or within the service where there might be a poem or reading. Horatius Bonar’s words may no longer be popular as a hymn, but set to such heartfelt music as here, they come across freshly. There is effective contrast between upper and lower voices, as if they were two different people, coming together at various points, and above all at the end for ‘Beloved, let us love: for only thus shall we behold that God who loveth us.’

THE QUEST [E/M]
John Rutter
SATB, oboe and organ
Oxford X600 £2.60
REQUIEM [M]
Will Todd
SATB (with divisions) and piano
Boosey & Hawkes 979-0-060-12946-9 £2.75

The Quest is an extended funeral anthem (about seven minutes long) that not so much combines as presents one after the other George MacDonald’s poem The Quest (‘I missed him when the sun began to bend’) followed by the ‘In paradisum’ from the Requiem Mass. The oboe links the choral phrases, bringing to mind Rutter’s setting of The Lord is my shepherd that found its way into his Requiem. Divided sopranos float above the texture in parallel thirds as angels greeting the soul in paradise. The skilfully written lines are easy to sing (although you need enough tenors and basses for them to divide into four parts) and poignantly effective.

Will Todd’s gospel-style movement, actually the first movement of a much bigger work, Songs of Peace (and confusingly nothing to do with Todd’s multi-movement Requiem of 2008), is written with great sensitivity to the words and with a passionate intensity, whether hushed as at the start and finish or more impassioned as at ‘et lux perpetua’ which twice provides a bright climax. The piano part has a ‘gospel feel’; the whole piece is life-affirming and highly recommended.

DO NOT STAND AT MY GRAVE AND WEEP [M]
David W. Jepson
SATB and piano or organ
Banks Music Publications ECS575 £1.95
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM [E]
Adrian Connell
SATB
Verlag Dohr (Universal Edition) ED88820 £4.90

Do not stand at my grave and weep, by Mary Elizabeth Frye is often read at funerals and it is good to have the option of allowing it to be sung. For the most part quietly confident, this setting allows the words to speak simply and clearly, making much of ‘I am the starshine of the night’ and ‘I am in each lovely thing’ before a reprise of the opening.

More for Remembrance Sunday or a memorial service, Adrian Connell’s very simple setting of Binyon’s verse, starting ‘They shall not grow old’, makes its impact by its austerity. Tenors and basses have the English text, above which upper voices repeat ‘Requiem aeternam’, almost chant-like. Lower voices become more melodic with ‘at the going down of the sun and in the morning’, at which point all voices join for a louder, repeated ‘we will remember them’ – 24 bars of musical prayer and remembrance.
Stephen Patterson