There can’t be many choral singers in Britain who have yet to encounter the name and
music of Bob Chilcott. For a time, he was dogged by being described
sniffily as ‘the new John Rutter’ – as if Rutter was ‘old’! –
but has now established himself completely in his own right. This
disc demonstrates exactly what it is that makes his music so popular
and such a delight to sing: an instinctive understanding of what
‘works’ in vocal writing. This is just as you’d expect from a
distinguished ex-Kings College choral scholar and ex King’s Singer.
He has a strong and characterful melodic gift, and an intense
response to selected texts.
is ably assisted on this Signum disc by The Sirens, a group
of young professional female singers, brought together by Elizabeth
Fleming and Chilcott himself, and pianists Iain Farrington and
Alexander Hawkins, this last in the Little Jazz Mass along
with bassist Michael Chilcott and drummer Derek Scurll.
first song, ‘Circles of Motion’, is an ideal introduction to
Chilcott’s style; a subdued yet active piano part, like sunlight
playing on waves, and a swaying, gently syncopated melody in
the choir. ‘Like a Rainbow’ is more vigorous and assertive,
but surprises with its sudden turn to thoughtfulness and mystery.
That prepares the way for ‘All things pass’, a contemplative
setting of 6th century words by Lau-Tzu.
Waves’ was written for a TV programme celebrating Marconi’s
life, and begins and ends with the quiet sound of Morse code
signals. The piece is unaccompanied, and Chilcott develops wonderful
vocal textures. It gives an opportunity for member of The Sirens
to take solos, which, here as elsewhere, they do with aplomb.
next group of three contains some of his most irresistible songs.
‘The Lily and the Rose’ is an exquisite setting of a haunting
16th century text, while ‘Catch a falling star’ explores
the gentle melancholy of the famous poem by John Donne. In between
these comes – possibly my favourite track on the disc – a brilliant
version of ‘So fair and bright’. The way Chilcott lifts the
texture with his writing for the piano is a joy, as are his
subtle touches of minor key harmony, clouding momentarily the
brightness of the song.
1’ is another fine piece of unaccompanied writing. I wasn’t
so sure, though, about ‘Like a singing bird’, which combines
Chilcott’s own melody with the famous one for Robbie Burns’
‘My love is like a red, red rose’. I simply wasn’t convinced
that Chilcott had made a musical success of this combination,
and, maybe because of this, the track contains some of the least
convincing singing from the choir.
Day’, tracks 12 – 16, is a short cycle of songs which are settings
of, respectively, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Ken, a Jewish prayer,
R.S. Thomas and John Henry Newman. All very attractive, though
my only real ‘thumbs-down’ amongst all the tracks on the disc
is for ‘The Bright Field’. It seems to me that Chilcott’s rather
hum-drum setting with its twee melody entirely misses the sense
of revelation, of epiphany that shines out of this very great
poem. But my admiration for Chilcott is such that I must add
a health warning to my criticism! It’s always problematic when
one encounters a song based on a text that one knows and loves
well, for the composer may have an entirely different ‘take’
on the poem. Sometimes this can be stimulating, at others, as
here for me, it has a negative impact.
‘Little Jazz Mass’ that completes the disc is, I think, great
fun, largely because the composer has had the sense to keep
the movements short and sweet. Again, Chilcott’s great gifts
for melody, rhythm and texture are much in evidence, and the
‘Agnus Dei’, the most extended movement, is a beautiful and
affecting concluding item.
If you don’t yet know
Chilcott, this is a great place to start; you are likely to be
surprised and delighted, for here is an ‘accessible’ modern composer
with a strongly individual voice and, at his best, the power to