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St John the Baptist
Plainchant Praecursor Domini venit [3:08]; Ut Queant laxis [1:06]
Giovanni da PALESTRINA (?1525-1594) Fuit homo missus a Deo
Philip WILBY (b. 1949) Proclamation* [3:24]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) This is the record of John [3:42]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935) Anthem of St. John the Baptist* [5:11]
Michael EAST (c. 1580- c. 1648) As they departed* [7:17]
Tarik OíREGAN (b. 1978) De Sancto Ioanne Baptista* [6:21]
Heinrich ISAAC (c. 1450-55 Ė 1517) Introit for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist * [4:54]
Ryan WIGGLESWORTH (b. 1979) Collect for St. John the Baptist* [2:23]
William BYRD (c, 1539-1623) Benedictus, from the Short Service [3:58]
Plainchant O nimis felix [3:34]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Hear my prayer [2:08]; Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei [6:30]; Remember not. Lord, our offences [3:03]; Lord, how long wilt thou be angry [3:49]; I was glad [4:13]
The Choir of St. Johnís College, Oxford/Ryan Wigglesworth, Duncan Whitmore and Peter Buisseret.
David Baskeyfield (organ)
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 6-8 December 2004; 18 April 2005
* world première recording
CANTORIS CRCD6080 [69:38]


Itís an interesting idea for the choir of St. Johnís College, Oxford to present a CD of music inspired by the patron saint of the college. The only trouble is that the project seems to have run slightly out of steam, due, I assume, to a lack of sufficient music directly connected to the saint, though I take the point made in the notes that the Purcell anthems "take up and comment on St. Johnís themes of divine judgement and blessing."

Some of the music included has very strong links with the college itself. Gibbonsí justly celebrated anthem This is the record of John, which is well done here, featuring a fine, clear tenor solo from William Unwin, was written in 1620 for William Laud, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, who was President of St. Johnís 1611-21. It was also Laud who commissioned the anthem by Michael East, which after nearly five centuries finally receives its first recording here. Thanks to a generous benefaction the collegeís role in commissioning new music has been revived in the last few years and pieces by Pärt, OíRegan, Wigglesworth and Wilby are among the first fruits.

Of the new works, the Wilby Proclamation is a lively and arresting piece. Arvo Pärtís offering does not sound to me to break any new compositional ground for him but itís still an effective and contemplative work for choir and organ. Though generally restrained in tone it makes a definite impression on the listener. Tarik OíRegan sets an antiphon, versicle and prayer for chorus with a discreet and highly atmospheric organ part. Mainly subdued in tone, it rises to a very brief and effective climax before the final ĎAmení. I thought this was an impressive piece by a composer with a distinctive voice and a genuine feeling for choral writing. His piece gets a suitably devoted performance. Ryan Wigglesworth, the collegeís Kendrew Music Student, has chosen a rather unusual source for his a cappella piece, Collect for St. John the Baptist. The text is taken from a New Zealand Prayer Book. The brief setting makes good use of dissonance and is simple and direct in style.

I admire the enterprise that has seen the choir unearth two items, by East and Isaac, from the seventeenth- and fifteenth-century respectively that have not yet been recorded. Both merit their inclusion here.

With the Purcell items, of course, the choir face much more competition on CD. However, I find that they acquit themselves well and the five anthems make a satisfying appendix to the programme inspired by St. John.

Ryan Wigglesworth does most of the conducting but two of the collegeís three Organ Scholars also lend a hand. Duncan Whitmore directs the Wilby and Pärt pieces while those by East, OíRegan and, somewhat surprisingly, by Wigglesworth himself (I would have expected him to direct his own music), are entrusted to Peter Buisseret. All three seem to get equally good results from the choir. The third Organ Scholar, David Baskeyfield, makes a very effective contribution from the organ loft.

The choir sings well. They are clearly recorded in the pleasing acoustic of Merton College Chapel. The singers are well balanced against each other and sing with the freshness and purity that one always hopes to hear in good student choirs. Their commitment is evident, though never overdone.

The production values of this CD are high. The performances are good as is the recorded sound. Very useful notes are provided as are the texts and, where appropriate, English translations. There are some very nice illustrations as well. This CD has the feel of a recording that the artists involved wanted to make and itís clear that a good deal of care has gone into putting everything together. I enjoyed the recital very much and am happy to recommend it.

John Quinn

 

 



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