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Nicholas JACKSON (b. 1934)
Behold a Great Priest (1980) [1:35]
Mass for a Saint’s Day (1996) [22:25]
Tantum ergo (2005) [3:08]
Requiem (1976, 2006) [27:48]
The Rood (1982) [1:33]
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (1975) [5:01]
I will give thanks (1981) [3:16]
Salve Regina (1983) [3:12]
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in the Lydian Mode (1975) [3:59]
Te Deum and Jubilate (1984) [2:09]
Laura Oldfield (soprano); Emily Beahan (soprano); Peter Davoren (tenor); Francis Williams (tenor); Heny Jones (alto); David de Winter (tenor); Julian Debreuil (bass); David Goode (organ); Jeremy Filsell (organ)
The Rodolfus Choir/Ralph Allwood
rec. Eton College Chapel, 10-12 August 2006, 27 July 2007. DDD
NAXOS 8.570959 [75:50]
Experience Classicsonline

Nicholas Jackson studied composition with Edmund Rubbra and John Gardner, organ with C.H. Trevor and harpsichord with George Malcolm. With this foundation it should come as no surprise to find that his compositions are firmly embedded in the Anglican liturgical tradition. This new disc of his choral music encompasses ten pieces across a total of 31 tracks with only two of those tracks lasting longer than four minutes. From this it can be seen that the works chosen are all in what you might call a practical vein.

Composers who wish their works to be performed liturgically in cathedrals, colleges and churches must take account of the realities of church services and this Jackson does admirably. Not only are the works of a suitable length, but many of them have an extended organ part and take into account the practicality of teaching long complicated vocal lines to boys.

Perhaps it helps that Jackson is an organist and obviously has an interest in writing dramatically and interestingly for his instrument. The earliest piece, his first choral work, is the Mass for a Saint’s Day which was highly successful from day one. He makes much use of dramatic unisons and canon devices, and the organ makes a large contribution.

Jackson writes in what the CD booklet describes as a modern-romantic idiom. This means that his music fits neatly into the 20th century Anglican tradition and contains nothing to frighten the horses whilst retaining a good feel for texture and musical interest. At first glance (or listen) the music sounds purely English, but the ear then detects other influences. Jackson admits to being influenced by Duruflé, Langlais and Messiaen and it is the textures of Duruflé’s choral music which come through in these works, particularly the later ones. The movements written for his Requiem in 2006 are particularly redolent of Duruflés Requiem.

Jackson’s Requiem is a slightly curious work. It is an expansion of his Missa cum Jubilo, which was written in 1976 when the Anglican Church updated the liturgy. In 2006 Jackson added further movements to convert it piece into a Requiem Mass. These newer movements are set in Latin, in strong contrast to the modern English of the remainder. Jackson does not seem to have modified the 1976 movements to fit the Requiem mass, so that the work as recorded here includes a Credo and a Gloria even though the Gloria is omitted from the Requiem mass, and the words of the Agnus Dei have not been changed to those required for the Requiem mass.

Like Duruflé’s Missa cum Jubilo, Jackson’s mass incorporates many plainchant themes. The choral writing is denser than the Mass for a Saint’s Day and Duruflé’s influence can be seen in the choral textures. The organ part is important and the work concludes with an organ solo.

Also included on the disc are a pair of Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis settings, a Te Deum and Jubilate and a generous selection of anthems and motets.

Jackson’s work does not seem to have found its way much into the recording catalogue. Perhaps the rather practical, useful nature of these pieces has meant that they have been overlooked in favour of better known works. Admirers of his music will, perhaps be disappointed that this disc was not undertaken by a choir of boys and men, but the Rodolfus Choir under Ralph Allwood acquit themselves admirably.

The choir has a lovely clear, bright sound though I could have wished that their diction was better, especially as so many of the works are recorded in English. A mass like the Requiem which was written to showcase the new English Liturgy should surely be sung with greater clarity of words.

The organ part is admirably realised by Jeremy Filsell, with David Goode contributing the accompaniment to the Pie Jesu of the Requiem and the Magnficat and Nunc Dimittis in the Lydian mode.

The CD booklet includes the words as sung but without translations of the Latin items. Nicholas Jackson also contributes an informative article.

As presented on this disc, Jackson’s music is attractive, richly textured and accessible to choir and audience whilst still providing the stimulus of piquant harmonies. I would have liked a couple of longer movements to get a better feel for his style.

Followers of the English choral tradition will welcome this disc, particularly those who have heard Jackson’s popular masses live.

Robert Hugill



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