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Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962)
Edinburgh Mass (2001) [13:35]
O Sacrum Convivium (1990) [6:35]
Creator of the Stars of Night (2000) [4:16]
Ane Sang of the Birth of Christ (2002) [4:13]
A Prayer of King Henry VI (2002) [2:54]
Preces (2003) [1:11]
Psalm 112: Laudate Pueri (2004) [9:49]
Magnificat (Truro Service) (2001) [4:16]
Nunc Dimittis (Truro Service) (2001) [2:16]
Responses (2003) [5:32]
Salve Regina (2000) [5:41]
Dismissal (2003) [0:28]
St Asaph Toccata (2003) [8:34]
Michael Bonaventure (organ, Psalm 112, Toccata)
Susan Hamilton (soprano, Psalm 112)
Simon Nieminski (organ, Creator, Ane Sang)
The Choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh/Matthew Owens
Rec. St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, 23-24 Feb, 21 Dec 2004, 4 Jan 2005. DDD
DELPHIAN DCD34027 [70:22]

This recording is the culmination of a four-year association between Gabriel Jackson and the choir and conductor of St Mary’s. Matthew Owens has succeeded in placing contemporary music at the heart of the cathedral’s musical life, thus assuring an almost unique status for his choir as the germination point for new Anglican music – an artistic position which cannot be too greatly applauded.

The Edinburgh Mass immediately invites comparison with Arvo Pärt’s ‘Berliner Messe’, not only on the strength of the title, but also in the shortened Mass text used. Where Pärt has a whole chamber orchestra with which to support his voices, Jackson uses the choir alone, but both works share an economy and conciseness aimed at intensifying the directness of the Mass texts. In fact, a more useful stylistic comparison throughout this disc is with the choral work of Poulenc, and there are plenty of moments which remind me of the ‘Messe’ and the Motets of that great Frenchman. While Jackson’s compositional voice is distinctive, it is hard not to pick out the eclectic fragments of (for instance) Howells, Tippett, possibly Duruflé or Fauré, and indeed Pärt which crop up occasionally like the currants in a hot-crossed bun. This is not really a strong criticism. It is a considerable challenge to create really new music in what is after all an extremely well-trodden and closely frame-worked idiom. After listening carefully to Jackson’s music for a while now I have come to respect his achievement more and more.

The choir is nicely recorded here, and, aside from one rather pinched voice in the trebles which spoils the homogeny of the sound at some critical moments, is safely in tune, with good ensemble, dynamics and balance. Katy Thompson is the treble given solos in a number of these pieces, and while the vocal line soars cleanly over atmospheric organ or choral moments her intonation isn’t always completely secure – sometimes falling just short of the note, as in the beginning of Ane Sang. The Precentor parts in Preces, Responses and Dismissal, are taken by The Revd Canon Peter Allen. I hate to seem flippant when it comes to such sensitively serious work as this, but his voice reminds me of Thermian Commander Mathesar from that film ‘Galaxy Quest’ – or maybe I should just go to church more often.

This is new religious music of the highest order. It is unpretentious, open and honest, and with just enough extra harmonic interest to give the listener a frisson of relief from the conventions and traditions which are the backbone of, or which can be the straitjacket for this kind of music. The simplest ideas are often the best, and I particularly like the surprise upward semitone shift in the Truro Service pieces.

Personal taste plays a big role in approaching such a release. Since becoming ‘European’ I have been able to look a little more objectively at the Englishness of much of my earlier musical education. My first real composition teacher was Christopher Brown, whose choral work is equally rooted in the English tradition. Like change-ringing, there is something unique about British choral music which makes it instantly recognisable as such, and those who love sounds which can trace their ancestry back through Howells, Purcell, Elizabethan and even Medieval work from within the shores of the British Isles will be refreshed and fortified by the music on this disc.

Dominy Clements

 

 



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