As the title suggest most of this is utility music
for the Anglican service of evensong. It is not concert music and therefore
may have a limited appeal. Andrew has been influenced by Gregorian chant
and, I suspect, from heathen incantations which, coupled with simple
and unadventurous harmonies and a lot of unison work in music that is
predominantly slow, needs some stamina to listen to for any length of
The setting of Psalm 23 has a quiet confidence but
does not lift my spirit. There are occasional lovely phrases particularly
I will fear no evil. This piece is unaccompanied. I was glad
is joyful in parts and again has some expressive phrase namely For
my brethren and companions sake. The Evensong responses and usual
church items are plain and perhaps that is exactly what Andrew wanted.
This plainness exists in the setting of Psalm 121
The Magnificat is probably the best piece on
the disc although the opening staccato vocal line did not convey my
usual picture of the Virgin Mary. The use of the organ here adds colour
and, again, there is some character here with a few great climaxes.
But does this lend itself to the young and innocent peasant woman puzzled
by what has happened to her and having to flee to avoid the shame and
the wagging tongues?
The Nunc Dimittis was being written when Andrew’s
mother, Iris, died and this disc is dedicated to her memory. I still
talk to her husband, Frank, Andrew’s father, with whom I have a lot
in common. Frank was a horn player and served time in Birmingham knowing
all the conductors there from George Weldon to Simon Rattle. Frank’s
book Around the Horn is a very interesting read.
This recording was made in Arundel Cathedral in January
2001 with its splendid organ. The choir has the very great advantage
of female sopranos and altos. They made a lovely sound and the recording
is generally good.
This is not the best disc to get to know Andrew’s music.
The Centenary Fire Dances (reviewed
earlier) is a very good introduction and a recording of his best
symphony, the Symphony no. 2, should be high on someone’s agenda.
There is a possibility that Andy Anson and Alan Cuckston
may be recording some of the flute and piano music including the Piccolo
Sonata. This will be an important project. But lovers of church music
should investigate this disc. They may well see far more in it than
I have. One can miss the greatness of music if one is not the frame
of mind to appreciate it at a particular time..
profile of Andrew Downes by David Wright