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Magnificat. The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Music
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Ave Maria [2'46"]
Giovanni Pierluigi Da PALESTRINA (1525-1594) Alma Redemptoris Mater [2'30"]
William BYRD (c1543-1623) Benedicta et venerabilis es [1'01"]
Robert PARSONS (c1530-1570) Ave Maria [4'16"]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Magnificat Collegium Regale* [5'23"]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971) Ave Maris Stella* [10'05"]
John JOUBERT (b. 1927) There is no rose [2'28"]
John TAVENER (b 1944) Hymn to the Mother of God [2'13"]; Hymn for the Dormition [3'26"]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Hymn to the Virgin [3'04"]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935) Bogoróditse Dyévo [1'07"]
Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611) When to the Temple [3'22"]
Henryk GÓRECKI (b. 1933) Totus tuus sum Maria [8'49"]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Stabat Mater* [5'15"]
Francesco SORIANO (1549-1621) Regina Coeli [1'22"]
David SANGER (b. 1947) Salve Regina [4'26"]
Charles Marie WIDOR (1844-1937) Salve Regina* [5'05"]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Ave Maria [2'36"]
The Choir of Lincoln College, Oxford directed by David Terry
*with Benjamin Nicholas (organ)
Recorded in the chapel of Exeter College, Oxford
GUILD GMCD 7158 [70'45"]

This intelligently planned and, for the most part, well-executed CD commemorates a special occasion. On 2 July 1997 the choir of Lincoln College visited the Vatican and performed Górecki's Totus tuus in St. Peter's Square in front of Pope John Paul II. I'm not sure how well this piece of music, with its sustained passages of quiet singing, came over in the open air bustle of St. Peter's Square but I'm sure the Pope was delighted by the tribute, almost exactly ten years to the day since the piece had been first performed to welcome him back to Warsaw. The CD liner includes a very happy looking photograph of the choir with the Pontiff.

The otherwise extremely comprehensive booklet does not give the date when this CD was recorded but I assume it was around the time of the visit to Rome as David Terry's period as Organ Scholar of the college (1994-97) came to a close. Benjamin Nicholas, who accompanies several items most effectively, was Organ Scholar at the college between 1995 and 1998. He has a solo, the Widor item, which he plays very well indeed.

Lincoln College (or The College of the Blessed Mary and All Saints, Lincoln, to give its full title) is one of the oldest Oxford Colleges. It was founded in 1427. One of its major claims to fame is that John Wesley was a Fellow of the college. Given the college's dedication to the Blessed Virgin the idea behind this programme is especially apposite. The music runs chronologically through the church's year, proceeding from the Nativity of the Virgin through events in her life such as the Annunciation, the birth of Christ, Easter, and the Dormition (falling asleep) of Mary. This scheme is described in more detail in the excellent and readable liner notes by Dr. John Caldwell.

At the time of this recording the choir consisted of eight sopranos, seven female altos, six tenors and eight basses. The recording took place in the chapel of neighbouring Exeter College, presumably because the small Lincoln chapel and its organ were considered not to be large enough. I suppose I should get out into the open at once my one reservation about this disc. Just occasionally the relative immaturity of the singers is betrayed by a fractional but noticeable lapse in pitch on the part of the sopranos. I suspect this results from a failure by some of the sopranos to support every note fully. It's especially noticeable, unfortunately, in the very first item, the Bruckner motet. In the opening phrases, which are for the women's voices, some notes are just "in the crack" and when the full choir sings the word "Jesus" three times, the third and loudest exclamation (track 1, 0'55") is definitely "democratic" in pitch at the upper end of the choir, as are some of the notes in the following phrases. Mind you, it's only fair to say that Bruckner's tessitura is extremely demanding in places. How difficult these short motets of his are to sing well!

Thereafter, although there are a few other places where I felt the pitch was a little bit queasy, the singing is much more secure. So, for instance, the exquisite Parsons Ave Maria (track 4) is very well done. I also enjoyed the Howells Magnificat (track 5) very much. This is a quite wonderful setting of the canticle. Howells's music is extremely responsive to the several moods of the text and I thought the Lincoln singers were remarkably sensitive to these changes of ambience. Some may miss the extra cutting edge of boy trebles in the soaring, ecstatic "Glory be" but I found this Lincoln account very satisfying.

The programme contains several enterprising choices. Chief among these is the piece by Dupré (track 6). Here the composer follows the old practice of alternatim. The odd-numbered stanzas are sung by the male voices in plainchant while the even-numbered stanzas are not sung but, instead, the organ plays a meditation on the unsung words. These meditations are closely related to the chant and have the feel of an improvisation. Indeed, I rather suspect that improvisation may have been the origin of the piece, as was Dupré's much larger Versets sur les Vèpres de la Vierge, Op. 1eight (1919) - the date of composition of Ave Maris Stella is not given in the notes. This performance is entirely successful. The plainchant is delivered idiomatically and atmospherically and Benjamin Nicholas plays the organ interludes with finesse, especially the driving toccata ("Amen") with which the work ends and which somewhat unexpectedly concludes quite quietly, though affirmatively.

Another novelty is the piece by the well-known organist, David Sanger, whose pupil Benjamin Nicholas was at the time of this recording. This piece was written for the Lincoln choir, presumably around the period prior to the recording. In his notes John Caldwell adduces the influence of Messiaen. I'd agree; indeed, the piece reminded me strongly of the French master's marvellously rapt O Sacrum Convivium. The harmonies sound extremely challenging for the singers but so far as I could tell (the piece was new to me) they do it very well indeed. As I say, I hadn't heard this piece before but I admired it very much.

The Górecki piece was, presumably, the foundation stone of this recital. It is in his later, more accessible style. Though simple in structure and melody it
demands exceptional dynamic control - which it receives here. Indeed, these young singers give an extremely fine and devoted performance, as good as any I've heard of the work. If their Vatican performance was as good as this then I'm sure the Holy Father will have been well pleased.

Despite the reservation I expressed earlier about occasional lapses in pitch I wouldn't wish that issue to deter prospective purchasers. Those blemishes do exist but they affect only a fairly small proportion of the contents of the CD. Of greater importance, I think, is the fact that Terry and his singers have put together a richly varied and imaginatively planned programme and have then executed it with dedication, commitment and no little skill. The attractions of the disc are enhanced by the excellent recorded sound and documentation. All texts are printed, with English translations where appropriate and the layout is very clear, although the notes are also provided in French, Spanish and Italian.

By the nature of things university choirs are extremely transitory in nature and this CD is an excellent souvenir of Lincoln College's "class of '97'. I enjoyed this disc and am happy to recommend it.

John Quinn



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