It was with great pleasure that I listened to this
lovely new music by James Whitbourn and to hear again some of the most
profound and beautiful words of the Old and New Testaments.
Crown my Heart, an anthem, sung in traditional
style by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge uses the words from 1
Corinthians, Chapter 13. It is easy to imagine it being sung at any
celebration and enjoyed by singers and listeners alike, it is so serene
and yet so joyful. Glory to God is a very short and glorious
expression of devotion with the choir in full voice.
Son of God Mass: I was quite unprepared
for the startling but absolutely riveting opening of this mass announced
by the soprano saxophone in the Introit. What a splendid start and what
wonderful playing by John Harle. The Kyrie follows, sung by the choir
and Elin Manahan Thomas soprano, their voices in perfect harmony. It
is sung meditatively, but there are also passages that are majestic
and atmospheric sung in soaring, swelling voices. The Sanctus and Benedictus
is sung with glorious conviction, this is a true sound of celebration.
The choir and instrumentalists develop an impressive rapport in the
Pax Domini, one does not need to know the words, the music speaks for
itself. The Agnus Dei has a serenity that is exploited to the full by
the choir and the result is delightful. In the Amen, the saxophone once
again plays the dominant role, accompanying the choir for the finale
of this inspiring devotional piece.
Two Christmas carols: Of one that is so fair
and Hodie are in complete contrast to the Mass, and each other.
The first, written in the 13th century, is sung by the choir
and sounds very pleasant indeed. The second was written in 1999. After
the initial introduction, sung by Elin Manahan Thomas, her voice sounding
as soft as silk, a lively dance tune develops. These two carols are
a welcome change to the oft-repeated ones we hear year after year. I
hope to hear them again.
Song of Hannah - the soloists and choir blend
well together in this lovely setting of a modern translation of the
words of the 1st book of Samuel, chapter 2 verses 1-8. It
includes an antiphon and was first performed at a Daily Service on Radio
This is My Commandment features Alastair Long
on the trumpet. It is a short anthem written on 9th November
1997 for a remembrance broadcast and brings together the famous words
of Jesus Christ, "Greater love hath no man………" and the poignant
notes of the last post which are superbly played by Alastair Long.
The Mystery of Love. This modern cantata features
the solid and commanding voice of Robert Tear. An unusual feature is
the use of many strange sounding exotic instruments e.g a Djembe, a
log drum, cowbells and Tibetan prayer bowls. I’d like to pay tribute
to the writer of the poems on which the music is based, but the sleeve
notes by the composer are confusing. It is difficult to establish whether
he or Robert Tear wrote the poems. Maybe someone can set the record
straight for me! The music is as enigmatic as the words - there is mystery,
excitement, drama and majesty here. Robert Tear is in splendid voice,
the music of James Whitbourn seems a challenge for him but I’m sure
he enjoys the experience. The 5th and final poem was written
in opposition to Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that dark night
following the death of someone’s father. To my mind, whoever it was
did go, not only gently, but joyfully into that dark night.
The editing of the composer’s notes leaves a lot to
be desired, e.g. in the case of The Song of Hannah, the text
of the song is set solid without line spacing to indicate where the
antiphon is in fact sung.
This is inspired new sacred music, a joy to listen
to and a very welcome contrast to accustomed devotional pieces. I hope
that this music will receive the acclaim it deserves and is performed
in halls of music everywhere.