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Robert HUGILL (b.
The Lord Bless Thee [5:09]
Faith, Hope and Charity [5:10]
What is Man? [15:06]
Four Motets from Tempus per Annum: (Ad te levavi
[3:21]; Populus Sion [4:41]; Gaudete [2:01]; Rorate coeli
The Testament of Dr. Cranmer [21:14]
Salve Regina [4:08]
Agnus Dei [2:08]
Nunc Dimittis [4:03]
Watson (tenor); Simon Briggs (violin); Paul Ayres (organ)
eight:fifteen vocal ensemble/Strings of the Chameleon Arts
rec. All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London, 23-24 April
Texts and translations included
ART DDA25053 [77:07]
suppose that this review should commence with a Declaration
of Interest. Readers will recognise Robert Hugill as a member
of the MusicWeb reviewing panel and a regular contributor
to our site. However, panel members live all over the world
and many of us have never even met each other. I don’t know
Robert personally so I hope and believe that I can judge
this disc objectively.
Hugill is a self-taught composer and an accomplished one
on the evidence of the contents of this CD. Those who have
read his writings on this site will recognise him as someone
with a great interest in vocal music, and especially in religious
music. He regularly sings as a member of a church choir in
London. It’s not surprising, therefore, to find that vocal
music with a spiritual leaning lies at the heart of the repertoire
on this disc.
first three items involve a string orchestra and I wonder
if Robert Hugill has been best served by the layout of the
disc. There’s a strong similarity of style in the string
writing. I would have preferred it if these three pieces
had been placed separately on the disc, especially as all
three are essentially in moderate tempo. Of course, I acknowledge
one doesn’t have to play the tracks in order but the newcomer
to the disc might well do this.
Lord Bless Thee was written
to be sung at a wedding by a soprano soloist with organ
accompaniment: the string orchestration was made for the
present recording. The piece features long plaintive lines
for the singer and the upper strings over a drone bass.
To my ears the music wears a somewhat serious mien for
a nuptial piece.
Hope and Charity also began
life as a wedding song for soprano and organ but the version
recorded here, again arranged for the recording, is for
string orchestra and solo violin. Once again the tone is
serious, almost severe at the start, but as it unfolds
the music has a gaunt beauty. Whether by accident or design
some of the threads of the preceding two pieces are united
in What is Man? Here Hugill brings together solo
tenor, solo violin and strings in an extended piece which
is a setting of his own selection of words from William
Blake’s poem, Jerusalem. The piece is divided into
three short arias and four recitatives though these latter
are more in an arioso style. Christopher Watson has a light,
clear voice. His timbre is such as one would expect from
someone with extensive experience in English cathedral
choirs and in early music. He sings both this Blake piece
and his role in The Lord Bless Thee very expressively
and with conviction.
remainder of the programme is choral and features the eight
evidently expert singers who constitute the eight:fifteen
vocal ensemble. The principal work, and the one that gives
the programme its title, is The Testament of Dr. Cranmer,
an extended work for unaccompanied singers. This work, first
performed in 2001, commemorates the execution of Archbishop
Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556). Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury
from 1533 until his death. In this role he was a leading
figure in the first phase of the English Reformation under
Henry VIII. Inevitably he fell foul of Henry’s Catholic successor,
Queen Mary and was tried for treason and burned at the stake.
Robert Hugill himself has compiled the libretto for The
Testament of Dr. Cranmer, drawing upon an eyewitness
account of Cranmer’s execution and weaving into this core
text the Latin De Profundis and the Pater Noster – though
the latter is also sung in English. It’s abundantly clear
that Cranmer is a figure who has come to have an enormous
significance for Hugill and he writes that he hopes to compose
a full oratorio about this leading English Protestant martyr.
The music is, like everything else on this disc, firmly tonal,
though leavened with a good pinch of dissonance. Several
passages are searingly dramatic but there are a number of
more meditative, prayerful sections. Overall the music is
sincere and communicative and it’s expertly performed.
remaining vocal music is less ambitious in scale. The four
motets come from a collection, entitled Tempus per Annum, which
Hugill has devised as a cycle of the Mass Introits for the
Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical year. These short pieces
sound quite demanding of the singers but not outrageously
so. I suspect they would not be beyond the competency of
an able, well-directed choir. My two favourites among the
four included here were Populus Sion, the music of
which reveals itself only gradually but which has a fine
radiance towards the end, and Gaudete, which is one
of the few pieces on the disc in a lively tempo.
well produced disc features committed performances from musicians
who serve Robert Hugill well. My main difficulty with the
collection is that, for my taste, too much of the music wears
a serious countenance. In a piece like Gaudete, Robert
Hugill shows that he can write lively, happy music. I would
have welcomed a couple more pieces in this vein so as to
give a more rounded portrait of a highly committed composer.
The sound is excellent and the documentation, including notes
by the composer, is very good although the dates of composition
of the various pieces are not supplied.
further information about Robert Hugill’s music, including
details of imminent concert performances visit his website.
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