Never has a description of a CD of choral music been more apposite
than this one – “A Feast of Music” - from The Choir of Royal Holloway
University of London. But this is better than a feast for that
word perhaps has overtones of over-indulgence. This is a perfectly
balanced meal that will leave the listener totally satisfied and
anxious for another visit to the restaurant!
The programme is
superb, covering a wide range of ecclesiastical music from Estonia,
Spain, Austria, and the British Isles. The batting order is
not quite chronological, although the first four tracks comprise
early liturgical music and the latter part of the CD explores
the twentieth century. Only the somewhat symphonic Christus
Factus Est by Anton Bruckner spoils the ‘concept’, as this
piece was composed in 1884.
The CD begins with
four superb examples of sixteenth/seventeenth church music.
Interestingly the William Byrd piece, Cibavit Est was
actually banned after it was published in 1605 – due to its
Catholic theological content. It is a near perfect setting of
the Proper for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Personally Victoria
has always had the edge over Palestrina in my mind, yet the
present piece, O magnum mysterium does nod in the Italian’s
direction. Thomas Weelkes is honoured with two motets – Alleluia
I heard a Voice and When David heard – both written
after 1608 when the composer had turned from things secular
to those sacred. I cannot help feeling that the secular side
of his art never quite disappeared – if these motets are anything
to judge by.
Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat
is the heart of this CD – being, perhaps, the most demanding
of the works and also the longest at just over eight minutes.
I admit to not having ‘got into’ Part’s music, but feel that
this stunningly beautiful and moving offering to Our Lady is
an excellent starting point. It is probably hackneyed to say
this, but he seems able to balance tradition with modernity:
this belongs to a world of slippery time. This is possibly the
most heartfelt work on this CD. I have often felt that some
liturgical music can do more to fill people’s minds with a spirit
of religion that that of a dozen pontificating Archbishops –
and this is one of those pieces.
The Holst Nunc
Dimittis, if played ‘blind’, would probably not be attributed
to him. There is little to suggest 20th century Hammersmith
- but a lot of influence from Palestrina and Gabrielli. The
programme notes point out the huge influence of Richard Terry
and the Choir of Westminster Cathedral on the minds of many
composers in the first twenty years of the century with the
rediscovery of early liturgical music. I do not know if Holst
wrote a ‘mag’ to go with this ‘nunc dim’?
I guess another
work that seriously impressed me on this disc is the O sacrum
convivium by Gabriel Jackson. This both harks back to earlier
models and looks to the music of Pärt. The programme notes
point out that as this motet was commissioned by the combined
choirs of Portsmouth and Guildford Cathedrals, it was possible
to “take advantage of the potentially massive resultant sonority
by dividing the score, at some moments, into ten parts.” This
music has poise and balance that reflects the text: ‘O sacred
banquets at which Christ is received’.
The Irish-born Charles
Wood’s Nunc Dimittis is one of the composer’s
classic choral works that perhaps reveals his debt to the music
of his teacher Stanford. Yet there is a unique quality about
this music that is totally personal and is beholden to no teacher.
As an aside, I believe it is high time we reappraised Wood’s
accompanied anthem dates from 1982. It was written for his nephew’s
wedding and, perhaps predictably, sets some words from one of
the most poetic books in the Bible: The Song of Solomon. This
is a good setting of these familiar words with a particularly
interesting working of the ‘My beloved spake, and said unto
me, rise up, my love, my fair one, come away.” It achieves the
mystery of these words – on the one hand a literal offer from
the groom to his bride and more mystically, that of Christ’s
promise to the faithful. Truly beautiful.
brought to a close with Stanford’s superb Easter anthem – Ye
Choirs of New Jerusalem. This is a sound that typically
epitomises the Anglican cathedral sound. It is an adroit way
to close this fine concert.
The singing is great,
the sound quality perfect and the programme notes are well written
and informative. Alas it is a very short CD – only some 47 minutes
worth of music. I look forward to more offerings from this impressive,
competent and obviously committed choir and from Rupert Gough