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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


RECORDINGS OF THE MONTH



James WHITBOURN (b. 1963)

A Finer Truth
Crown my heart
Glory to thee
Son of God Mass

For choir, saxophone† and organ
Of one that is so fair
Hodie
Come to the wedding
Song of Hannah
Venite
Blessings on you
This is my commandment
The Mystery of Love

For tenor*, choir and chamber ensemble
A finer truth
Come with me
The wide world sings
I saw a plant
Go so gently

* Robert Tear (tenor); † John Harle (saxophone); Joby Burgess (percussion) and John Reid (organ) with the Choir of Clare College Cambridge directed by Timothy Brown
Recorded in Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge on 25th and 26th June 2001
ETCETERA KTC 1248 [70:33]

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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 4

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.


Grace Lace


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