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Man I Sing
Bob CHILCOTT (b. 1955)
The Making of the Drum (1997)* [14:25]
My Prayer ((2000) [5:20]
Advent Antiphons (2004) [11:41]
The Shepherd’s Carol (2000) [3:03]
And Every Stone Shall Cry (2003) [3:55]
Pange Lingua (2002) [3:54]
The Modern Man I Sing (1991) [7:34]
Beach (2004)** [6:11]
Simple Pictures of Tomorrow (2005) [7:42]
Weather Report (2005) [4:43]
BBC Singers/Bob Chilcott
*Simone Rebello (percussion)/**Paul Silverthorne (viola)
rec. 19. 26-27 July 2006, St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, London. DDD
Texts and translations included.

Former member of The King’s Singers, Bob Chilcott, has acquired a growing reputation in recent years as a composer and conductor. This new CD - the first, I think, completely devoted to his music - illustrates just why he’s become such a respected and popular figure.

On the evidence of what I’ve hard of it to date – on this and other recordings -Chilcott’s vocal music seems to me to share a number of very desirable characteristics with that of John Rutter. In the first place both seem to have a natural melodic gift, something that one can’t say about every composer. Secondly their harmonies are interesting and not always as straightforward as might seem to be the case on casual acquaintance. Thirdly, my experience from having sung quite a bit of Rutter’s music over the years is that it’s by no means as easy to perform as it may sound and whilst I have yet to sing any of Bob Chilcott’s music I strongly suspect that his music similarly contains technical challenges and traps for the unwary. Finally, and crucially, both composers are able to write music that communicates directly and effectively with the audience without condescension and that’s enjoyable – and nicely challenging – to perform. All the music on this CD is accessible, concise and says something worthwhile.

Chronologically the chosen repertoire ranges from Chilcott’s first significant composition, The Modern Man I Sing right up to Weather Report, an unashamed encore piece that was written specially for the BBC Singers and their conductor, Stephen Cleobury. Chilcott himself has a strong connection with the BBC Singers, whose Principal Guest Conductor he is. The choir is renowned as an expert ensemble and here they sing splendidly under Chilcott’s direction.

I was very taken with the Advent Antiphons. The so-called Great ’O’ antiphons are sung at Vespers or Evensong during the days leading up to Christmas. There are seven antiphons and one is proper for each of the days between 17 and 24 December. Chilcott’s settings were composed for the choir of Reykjavik Cathedral and though I imagine the settings can be sung individually Chilcott has made the antiphons into a consecutive concert setting. They’re very effective, conveying the anticipatory spirit of Advent admirably. The plainsong roots of the antiphons are discernible but the harmonies in which the melodies are cloaked are inventive, especially in the third, ‘O Radix Jesse’ and the fifth, ‘O Oriens’, in both of which the women’s voices carol freely around the men’s melodic material, imitating, as Chilcott says in his notes, the singing of birds and paying a homage to Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus, a work he admires greatly.

Christmas itself is represented by a delightfully fresh carol setting, The Shepherd’s Carol. This was written for the televised version of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, where the composer himself once sang in the choir, both as a chorister and as a choral scholar.

The Making of the Drum is a most interesting piece, which sets five poems by Edward Kamau Brathwaite. The poems describe how various elements of a drum – the skin, the sticks and so on – are fashioned. The version here recorded is a later revision, made sometime before 2003, which incorporates a marimba into the scoring. This adds to the African ambience of much of the work, which vibrant, dancing rhythms establish in the faster movements. It’s a fascinating and very enjoyable score and although three of the movements are lively the second and fifth, which are slower and more thoughtful in tone, are beautifully poetic.

There’s a nice story behind the composition of And Every Stone Shall Cry, which was commissioned by an American lady as a surprise gift for her parents. She brought them all the way to London for a holiday and during their sightseeing she led her unsuspecting parents into a church where, by prior arrangement, the piece was performed specially for them by a waiting choir It’s a lovely piece of simple eloquence and one can only imagine the delight of the dedicatees to receive such a gift.

Most of the music on the disc is for unaccompanied choir and in the two cases where instrumental accompaniment is provided the choice of instrument is most unusual. As we’ve already noted The Making of the Drum includes an important marimba part. In the case of Beach Chilcott employs a viola, superbly played by Paul Silverthorne. The viola’s nutty brown sound adds a marvellously wistful touch to this piece. I don’t quite know why but this piece put me in mind of Samuel Barber - and there’s more to the link than the fact that the title of Chilcott’s piece is close to Barber’s masterly Dover Beach.

The selection of music on this disc has been well made to give a good variety of perspectives on Bob Chilcott’s choral output. I enjoyed the recital immensely. Chilcott is a resourceful composer and one who writes exceptionally well for voices and he is superbly served here by the virtuosity of the BBC Singers. With good notes by the composer himself and excellent recorded sound this all adds up to a most attractive package.

John Quinn


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