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Regina Caeli
William HARRIS
(1883 -1973)
Bring us, O Lord God; Faire is the Heaven
Tarik O’REGAN (b. 1978)
Sub tuum praesidium
Anton BRUCKNER (1824 – 1896)
Ave Maria
Traditional arr. Stephen CLEOBURY (b. 1948)
Joys Seven
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 – 1976)
A Hymn to the Virgin
Edvard GRIEG (1943 – 1907)
Ave Maris Stella
Johannes ECCARD (1553 – 1611)
Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 – 1971)
Ave Maria
Carlo GESUALDO (1560 – 1613)
O vos omnes
Andrew MARCH (b. 1973)
Phos Hilaron; Nunc Dimittis; Magnificat; Be still and know; Marian Antiphon No. 3; Spiritus; A Song of Revelation
Henryk GORECKI (b. 1933)
Totus Tuus
Corpus Christi College Chapel Choir/Daniel Soper; Rebecca Drake
rec. 21-22 March 2005, Corpus Christi College Chapel, Cambridge
LAMMAS RECORDS  LAMM 188D [67.35]

 

2005 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.

The 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.

A 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.

Eccard’s 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.

I’m 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.

It 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.

The 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.

But 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.

March’s 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. 

March’s 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.

I 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.

The 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.

Robert Hugill

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