marked the end of Daniel Soper’s period as Organ Scholar of
Corpus Christi College and de facto director of the College
Chapel Choir. To mark this occasion Lammas has issued this disc
of sacred music loosely themed around works dedicated to the
Virgin Mary. The programme carefully mixes the known and lesser
known in a rather effective way.
choir sings William Harris’s perennial favourite Faire is
the Heaven but also include the lesser-known Bring us,
O Lord God. This is a setting of John Donne. Like Faire
is the Heaven it is for double choir and set in D flat.
Bruckner’s Ave Maria comes over impressively despite
the relatively small size of the choir, which numbers just 24,
though I would have liked more refulgence of tone from the women.
lighter note is struck by Stephen Cleobury’s arrangement of
the traditional song Joys Seven. In Britten’s astonishing
A Hymn to the Virgin, written when he was just 17,
the choir displays a lovely blend. Grieg’s Ave Maris
Stella is a charming miniature with much melodic charm.
Presentation of Christ in the Temple is another perennial
favourite, though I could have wished that they sang it in the
original German rather than in Troutbeck’s Victorian English.
Stravinsky’s Ave Maria is simple and effective, rather
different from his characteristic orchestral music.
afraid that I felt that the choir rather bit off more than they
could chew in Gesualdo’s motet O Vos Omnes. They sing
the music with a good broad sweep but the heavily chromatic
modulations sound uncomfortable.
would be easy for the reviewer to simply pick holes in the performances.
There are moments of unsupported tone, occasions when the tuning
is not all it could be and the upper voices tend toward hardness
of tone when under pressure. But that is to discount the passion
and commitment which the young singers bring to this music;
everything is sung with vivid intensity. And achieving the recording
is a striking achievement given that the singers are all students
and must fit in three services per week on top of their studies.
Daniel Soper’s achievement with the choir seems to have borne
fruit as from 2005 Corpus Christi
have had a permanent musical director. The conducting honours
on the disc are shared between Daniel Soper and Rebecca Drake,
the College’s other organ scholar.
programme as described so far would be impressive enough, but
the choir has included a striking group of contemporary pieces.
Tarik O’Regan’s Sub tuum praesidium was commissioned
by Corpus Christi College for a reunion of former Choral and Organ scholars. It
is a haunting piece that mixes plainchant-like melodies with
quiet note clusters.
if the disc is intended as a showpiece for Soper and his Corpus
Christi choir, it is also something of a showpiece for the work
of composer Andrew March as the choir sing seven of March’s
motets. March is a former winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society
composition prize and studied at the Royal College of Music.
He was written a number of motets specifically for the Corpus Christi
College choir. Phos Hilaron sets an ancient Christian hymn to striking
and spiky effect. March’s harmonic language is often challenging
but always within the context of music suitable for a college
choir. Soper and his group perform the piece well, but it was
obviously a challenge for them.
Nunc Dimittis was dedicated to Corpus
Christi College and was inspired by hearing
the choir singing in Salisbury Cathedral. The piece uses rich
homophonic chords to great effect though the performance suffers
from some hardness of tone. The Magnificat is not strictly
a companion piece and musically it is a contrast, using a spiky
melodic idea with wide leaps in intervals. Be Still and Know
sets an adaptation of words from Psalm 46. The piece is rather
affecting, starting from and returning to quiet contemplation
with more developed music in the central section.
setting of the Regina Coeli text - called Marian Antiphon
No. 3 - has moments of great power but is a remarkably contemplative
setting of the text, with some lovely still moments. March’s
Spiritus uses overlapping dissonant phrases in a spare
manner, utilising the building’s acoustic to maximum effect.
This group of pieces by March is completed with a setting of
texts from Revelation.
am not sure that either March or the choir was well served by
including so many of March’s pieces on the disc. March’s music,
striking though it is, is taxing to sing and perhaps the choir
should have considered trimming the programme slightly. March’s
music sounds as if it is wonderfully useful in the context of
the daily life of a chapel choir, but gathering seven such pieces
does not quite do justice to the breadth of his talent; some
of the motets fail to rise much above the level of gebrauchsmusik.
disc concludes with a fine performance of Gorecki’s Totus
Tuus. The choir is at its best in the more familiar pieces.
Though the disc could not be considered as a library choice,
there is much to consider. If you think of it more as a live
snapshot, then the young singers bring a freshness and vitality
to the music which enables us to enjoy the fruits of Daniel
Soper’s three productive years with the college choir.