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O Sacrum Convivium: A feast of music from the Choir of Royal Holloway University of London
William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
Cibavit eos (1605) [2.33]
Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611)
O magnum mysterium (1572) [3:34]
Thomas Weelkes (c.1576-1623)
Alleluia, I heard a voice (c.1600) [2:46]; When David heard (1622) [3:51]
Arvo PÄrt (b.1935)
(1989) [8:09]
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
Nunc Dimittis (1915) [3 :13]
Gabriel Jackson (b.1962)
O sacrum convivium (1990) [6:22]
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Christus factus est (1884) [5:20]
Charles Wood (1866-1926)
Nunc Dimittis in B flat (late 1920s) [3:12]
Robert Walker (b.1946)
As the apple tree (1982) [3:21]
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
Ye choirs of New Jerusalem
(1910) [4:44]
The Choir of Royal Holloway University of London/Rupert Gough
Samuel Rathbone (organ)
rec. Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, Reading, 1 May 2006


Experience Classicsonline

Never has a description of a CD of choral music been more apposite than this one – “A Feast of Music” - from The Choir of Royal Holloway University of London.  But this is better than a feast for that word perhaps has overtones of over-indulgence. This is a perfectly balanced meal that will leave the listener totally satisfied and anxious for another visit to the restaurant!

The programme is superb, covering a wide range of ecclesiastical music from Estonia, Spain, Austria, and the British Isles. The batting order is not quite chronological, although the first four tracks comprise early liturgical music and the latter part of the CD explores the twentieth century. Only the somewhat symphonic Christus Factus Est by Anton Bruckner spoils the ‘concept’, as this piece was composed in 1884.

The CD begins with four superb examples of sixteenth/seventeenth church music. Interestingly the William Byrd piece, Cibavit Est was actually banned after it was published in 1605 – due to its Catholic theological content. It is a near perfect setting of the Proper for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Personally Victoria has always had the edge over Palestrina in my mind, yet the present piece, O magnum mysterium does nod in the Italian’s direction. Thomas Weelkes is honoured with two motets – Alleluia I heard a Voice and When David heard – both written after 1608 when the composer had turned from things secular to those sacred. I cannot help feeling that the secular side of his art never quite disappeared – if these motets are anything to judge by.

Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat is the heart of this CD – being, perhaps, the most demanding of the works and also the longest at just over eight minutes. I admit to not having ‘got into’ Part’s music, but feel that this stunningly beautiful and moving offering to Our Lady is an excellent starting point. It is probably hackneyed to say this, but he seems able to balance tradition with modernity: this belongs to a world of slippery time. This is possibly the most heartfelt work on this CD. I have often felt that some liturgical music can do more to fill people’s minds with a spirit of religion that that of a dozen pontificating Archbishops – and this is one of those pieces.

The Holst Nunc Dimittis, if played ‘blind’, would probably not be attributed to him. There is little to suggest 20th century Hammersmith - but a lot of influence from Palestrina and Gabrielli. The programme notes point out the huge influence of Richard Terry and the Choir of Westminster Cathedral on the minds of many composers in the first twenty years of the century with the rediscovery of early liturgical music. I do not know if Holst wrote a ‘mag’ to go with this ‘nunc dim’?

I guess another work that seriously impressed me on this disc is the O sacrum convivium by Gabriel Jackson. This both harks back to earlier models and looks to the music of Pärt.  The programme notes point out that as this motet was commissioned by the combined choirs of Portsmouth and Guildford Cathedrals, it was possible to “take advantage of the potentially massive resultant sonority by dividing the score, at some moments, into ten parts.” This music has poise and balance that reflects the text: ‘O sacred banquets at which Christ is received’.

The Irish-born Charles Wood’s Nunc Dimittis is one of the composer’s classic choral works that perhaps reveals his debt to the music of his teacher Stanford. Yet there is a unique quality about this music that is totally personal and is beholden to no teacher. As an aside, I believe it is high time we reappraised Wood’s ‘non-church’ music.

Robert Walker’s accompanied anthem dates from 1982. It was written for his nephew’s wedding and, perhaps predictably, sets some words from one of the most poetic books in the Bible: The Song of Solomon. This is a good setting of these familiar words with a particularly interesting working of the ‘My beloved spake, and said unto me, rise up, my love, my fair one, come away.” It achieves the mystery of these words – on the one hand a literal offer from the groom to his bride and more mystically, that of Christ’s promise to the faithful. Truly beautiful.

Proceedings are brought to a close with Stanford’s superb Easter anthem – Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem. This is a sound that typically epitomises the Anglican cathedral sound. It is an adroit way to close this fine concert.

The singing is great, the sound quality perfect and the programme notes are well written and informative. Alas it is a very short CD – only some 47 minutes worth of music.  I look forward to more offerings from this impressive, competent and obviously committed choir and from Rupert Gough their director.

John France


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