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Christopher COTTON Requiem (1990 rev. 2004); ’twas a Star-lit Night; Ding Dong Merrily on High
STAVELAND arr. Richard Powell Tir n’a Oir;
TRAD arr. Richard Powell Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel
TRAD arr. Christopher COTTON Dashing Away
TRAD arr. Eric Gregory David of the White Rock; Londonderry Air
Philip UNDERWOOD Norfolk Folksong Suite (2002)
Mark J ALMOND Prelude
Richard POWELL To Us in Bethlem City
Philip Underwood (organ)
Papovian Ensemble/Christopher Cotton
Sotto Voce/Christopher Cotton
rec. no date given but 2004?, Church of St John the Divine, Brooklands, Sale; William Hulme’s Grammar School, Manchester
GRANDEUR GDUR 0501-2 [58:22]

Reductions in recording and production costs associated with the compact disc have brought recording projects within the reach of most church choirs. The discs serve as visiting card for choir and choral director, as memento of concerts and as a source of income at the church door.

Christopher Cotton’s understated Requiem for choir, chamber orchestra (eleven strings and one French Horn) and organ is in eight segments. The music is clearly from the English mainstream. There’s a touch of Delian dreaminess and Howells’ reverence without quite the ecstasy of either but pleasingly avoiding Victorian fustian. The contours of Cotton’s writing loosely link his style with that of Rutter and Fauré (it even has a Pie Jesu and an In Paradisum) but without quite their gift for memorable invention. I am not that taken with the Hymn movement which seems very ordinary beside the other seven sections. On the other hand his ’twas a Star-lit Night has what it takes - a lovely setting. The calypso style Ding Dong Merrily on High is another winner for Mr Cotton. The words of this Requiem are very helpfully printed in the insert leaflet.

On the other hand the irresistibly lilting celticisms of Tir n’a Oir is one of those items you want to replay straight away. While the choir does not seem as polished or as finely blended they are in the Requiem they handle this piece touchingly. Other choral directors need to track this piece down. Richard Powell is also responsible for the lively arrangement of the spiritual Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel which is another highlight of the disc alongside the Warlockian fragility of To us in Bethlem City.

Prelude for solo piano Mark J Almond (the sound engineer for this disc) is a study in tremulous liquidly romantic sentiment pushed forward with urgency. It is rather good and delightfully played by the composer.

Dashing Away is cleverly arranged and is a good showcase for the virtuoso choir but what an irritating piece of music. I have never liked it. David of the White Rock starts well but in this arrangement is not all that special although the blending of the choir is excellent and the Patrick Hadley vocalise at the start is impressive. Impressive skill registers strongly with the other Eric Gregory perennial but again this is a plain setting - a delight to sing, I am sure, but for the listener (well, this one, anyway) it fails to move. The Norfolk Folksong Suite is a cheery two-movement piece for organ alone. The finale, Jenny Lind, is dispatched with rapid-fire style.

There’s no shortage of choral CDs but this one has attractive and unusual repertoire to commend it and good performances.

Rob Barnett



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