£16 post free World-wide

 


555 sonatas 9Cds mp3 files
Only £22


 


Benjamin: Written on Skin £16

Search
What's New
Previous CDs
Concerts
Jazz
Nostalgia
Composers
Resources
Announce
Labels index


Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



CD REVIEW

Some items
to consider


BRAHMS Complete Edition
58CD £95.22


Shostakovich 14 Petrenko


Rachmaninov #3
Prokofiev #2

 


Dunedin Consort

Peter Grimes

Hymn of Jesus: Sea Drift

Complete Mozart Edition
Mozart complete edition

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 5 & 8 £11

Weiner, Klepper, Bloch, Schulhoff £12 post free


Available again

alternatively AmazonUK AmazonUS


Saint Louis Commissions
Ned ROREM (b. 1923) Ode to Man (2005) [6:59]
Clare MACLEAN (b. 1958) os anthos chortou (2004) [3:27]
Judith BINGHAM (b. 1952) The Shepheardes Calender [11:47]
Sasha JOHNSON MANNING Requiem (2006) [39:13]
The Saint Louis Chamber Chorus/Philip Barnes
rec. 5-8 November 2006, Our Lady of Sorrows Church, St. Louis. DDD
Texts and English translations included
REGENT REGCD255 [61:26]

 

Experience Classicsonline


The Saint Louis Chamber Choir was founded in 1956 by the British organist, Ronald Arnatt. Currently they are led by another British musician, Philip Barnes, who took over the direction of the choir shortly after moving to work in the USA in 1988. The choir boasts a membership of forty singers, though additional associate members also took part in at least some of the items on this recording.

The choir has made something of a habit of commissioning new pieces and, as the title of this CD indicates, all four works included here were written for them. With the exception of three movements from Requiem all the recordings are premières. All the pieces are for unaccompanied chorus. Three of the composers have had close associations with the choir: Judith Bingham has written at least two pieces for them while both Clare Maclean and Sasha Johnson Manning have held the post of composer-in-residence.

The three female composers represented here are all experienced singers as well as composers. To the best of my knowledge Ned Rorem has never been a professional singer but, as his choral works and his many art songs attest, he has a natural affinity with the human voice – and with words. In Ode to Man he sets some verse from Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. In keeping with the traditional way of writing for Greek chorus, these four verses are paired as strophe and antistrophe. The first pair is quite vigorous. The second pair is taken at a slower pace. The music of Section III is beautifully smooth and lyrical, with translucent textures. Section IV is also lyrical and, arguably, even more impressive than its predecessor, building to an ardent climax.

There’s a connection between Ned Rorem and the work by New Zealand-born Clare Maclean. This piece was commissioned by the Saint Louis choir to be included in the same concert as a performance of Rorem’s Four Madrigals on texts by Sappho. Maclean aptly chose to set words by Sappho also but her setting is in Greek. The music has consistent energy and dances along. The ending, which is somewhat abrupt and enigmatic, comes as something of a surprise.

Not long ago I reviewed and enjoyed a collection of choral music by Judith Bingham. The work chosen here by the Saint Louis choir makes an equally strong impression. The three movements, depict, as Philip Barnes explains, “the challenges of Elizabethan [English] country life.” The first and last movements set words by Edmund Spenser while the middle section of the piece sets a seventeenth-century American version of Psalm 23. The writing for voices is consistently interesting, featuring some fascinating but never outlandish choral textures. Having spent some time as a member of the BBC Singers Miss Bingham writes with an intuitive and practical understanding of choirs, it seems to me. The three movements are suitably contrasted. The first, ‘Winter’, begins with what Philip Barnes rightly describes as “abrasive vocal lines and chilling harmony”. The quiet close of this impressive movement is suggestive of the bleakness of winter. ‘Spring’, which follows, is much calmer. The concluding movement, ‘Autumn’, is mainly warm and relaxed in character. Through this movement a lilting Somerset folk tune runs like a thread. I was very taken with this work by Judith Bingham.

The most substantial piece on the disc is the Requiem of Sasha Johnson Manning. This English composer is another active singer and also a choir conductor in her own right. She’s had a lengthy association with the Saint Louis choir, for whom she first wrote music in 1998. Not long after that she was named their first composer-in-residence, a post she held until 2006. Her Requiem has been completed incrementally. Some of the movements were performed separately over the last few years by the choir and they have previously recorded the first two movements and the sixth of what eventually became an eight-movement composition.

This Requiem is unusual in its construction. The first three movements – ‘Requiem Aeterna’. ‘Dies Irae’ and ‘Out of the Deep’ (Psalm 30) – are all scored for SSATB. Then comes a setting for men’s voices of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Let down the bars. O Death’, after which the ladies sing Oscar Wilde’s Sonnet: On hearing the ‘Dies Irae’ in the Sistine Chapel. Then comes a movement in which the ladies sing, in Spanish, a poem by St. John of the Cross, which is combined with a male voice setting of the Nunc Dimittis. The penultimate movement is a setting for two mixed choirs of Walt Whitman’s Toward the Unknown Region. The full choir comes together for the last movement, ‘Lux Aeterna’. I think it’s useful to list the movements in this way to show not only that this Requiem is somewhat eclectic in terms of the words set but also how Miss Johnson Manning imaginatively varies the disposition of her forces.

The music is primarily lyrical and thoughtful in tone. Most of the time it’s in slow or moderate tempo, as you might expect. However, in the ‘Dies Irae’, which sets only two stanzas of the sequence, the music is much more dynamic and rather exciting. The palette of choral sounds that Miss Johnson Manning produces is consistently fastidious. In the opening movement I like the light textures that result from the use of high voices or getting the lower voices to sing at the top end of their registers. The setting of Psalm 30 (movement III) is quite subdued for the most part and I admired this pensive meditation.

The Dickinson setting (IV) is short and in it, as Philip Barnes says, the singers seem “warmly [to] embrace death”. It’s a most effective contrast to follow this with the chaste sounds of female voices only in V. Philip Barnes says that they “appeal for [death’s] postponement” but the appeal is gentle in nature. There’s a short soprano solo at the words “A bird at evening flying to its nest”, which is beautifully rendered. This mainly calm movement contains some beautiful music. The combination of Spanish and Latin in VI adds spice to the music, which grows more complex and ecstatic as the movement unfolds. The poem and the canticle are very neatly juxtaposed in a most imaginative way. In some ways the final movement (VIII) is the most satisfying. The music is tranquil and flowing and the last three minutes or so have a particular degree of warmth and radiance. At the very end a series of rich chords brings the work to a beatific close. This Requiem is a lovely, thoughtful and eminently approachable piece. I should imagine that it’s quite demanding to sing, not least in terms of sustaining the lines and keeping the pitch. Suffice to say that the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus sounds to be fully equal to the task.

Throughout the whole programme, in fact, the choir’s singing is distinguished and the sounds that they make fall most pleasingly on the ear. Philip Barnes has clearly trained them extremely well and he directs the performances with taste and commitment. Anyone who relishes top quality unaccompanied choral singing will find much to enjoy here. The choice of music is highly commendable also. All of the music on this disc is very worthy of dissemination to a wide audience and I hope that this CD release will achieve that objective. The recorded sound is highly sympathetic. The engineers have captured the natural resonance of the church skilfully and have used it to add a natural bloom to the sound while retaining admirable clarity. Useful booklet notes complete a notable release.

John Quinn

Further information about the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus is at www.chamberchorus.org

 


 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
CDAccord
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter
 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools




Return to Review Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.