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Salmow Kernewek – Contemporary Choral Music from Cornwall
Russell PASCOE
Love’s Agonie - Three Medieval Lyrics (2003) [11.00]; Salmow Kernewek (2006) [18.55]
Paul DRAYTON (b. 1944)
Love’s Redeeming Work is Done (2007) [6.30]; Dance in a Desolate Place [6.23]; New College Service (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) (1968) [10.26]
Jonathan CARNE
Put by the Sun (2007) [6.20]
Lux Mundi (1994) [6.13]
Graham FITKIN (b. 1963)
Organ (2004) [6.00]; Ending (2000) [5.56]
Tom Little (organ)
St. Mary’s Singers/Christopher Gray (conductor; organ)
rec. 24–26 May 2008. Truro Cathedral. DDD
REGENT REGCD291 [77.55]


Experience Classicsonline

The title of this disc, Salmow Kernewek, means ‘Cornish Psalms’ in Cornish. It’s also the title of the final piece in an enterprising programme of contemporary choral music by composers with Cornish links. The music is performed by a choir based at Truro Cathedral. St. Mary’s Singers were founded in 1985 and they sing services at the Cathedral when the Cathedral Choir is on holiday. On this disc they are conducted by Christopher Gray who conducted them from 2001 to 2008.

Russell Pascoe studied composition with Derek Bourgeois at Bristol University and is now head of Music at Richard Lander School, Truro. His Love’s Agonie - Three Medieval Lyrics was commissioned by St. Mary’s Singers and premiered by them in 2003. It sets three medieval poems and moves in mood from worldly love to Christian love. In the first song, Blow Northern Wind, the lady’s virtues and physical beauty are extolled. In the second, Jesu Christ, myn leman swete is a fervent prayer. The final movement, The Penitent hopes in Mary contrasts worldly love and Christian love. At least that is Pascoe’s intention. I found these part-songs attractive and well-wrought without ever quite appreciating the composer’s intentions to contrast the two types of love. The opening song displays a lively rhythmic feel with spicy harmonies. The second keeps in this territory, though perhaps in less lively fashion. The final movement is, appropriately, more austere.

These are followed by a piece which Paul Drayton wrote for Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City. Drayton is a Cornish-based pianist, composer and conductor. Love’s Redeeming Work is Done opens with the choir singing Wesley’s Easter Hymn in unison over a taxing organ part. The composer then develops the material, increasing the choral interest until a final quiet conclusion. I felt that he was aiming to produce a powerful and uplifting work, but am not sure whether he succeeds. It is, however, undoubtedly a well made and useful piece. The choral piece is followed by Drayton’s atmospheric organ piece, Dance in a desolate place which was written for Christopher Gray who plays it here.

Jonathan Carne’s Put by the Sun was premiered by St. Mary’s Singers in 2008. It sets a poem by Robert Nichols from ‘Swansong’ (1920) which was dedicated to Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock). Carne is Cornish-born, trained at the Royal Academy and is now based in Truro. Put by the Sun is a quiet, intense piece with strong overtones of the English part-song mixed with hints of close harmony.

Paul Drayton’s New College Service was written in 1968 for the choir of New College, Oxford. Drayton’s idiom in the piece is tonal, with clear and affecting harmonies. In many places the Magnificat hardly sounds like a sacred piece and comes to rather a jazzy close. But the Nunc Dimittis is a quietly affecting piece. Both movements are written with admirable clarity.

Lux Mundi is a little gem. Written by Paul Comeau in 1994 for the Three Spires Singers it was first performed at Truro Cathedral. Despite the title, the words are English and taken from ‘Carols and Christmas Rhyme’, selected from poems of Father Andrew (1935). The work is tonal, but with an attractively tough edge to the harmony. At times Comeau discovers a beautiful austerity.

Lux Mundi is followed by another pair of strong pieces, by the most well-known composer on the disc, Graham Fitkin. Organ is an organ solo written for the organ of Symphony Hall in Birmingham and premiered in 2004. Excitingly rhythmic and full of passages which use the organ at full pelt, the work is impelled by jazzy motor rhythms. Fitkin’s Endings sets a passage from Marcus Aurelius. It opens with low organ drones and quiet choral clusters. Over continuing organ pedal-points the choral music develops into more traditional part-writing, but the piece remains distant and rather haunting.

Finally Russell Pascoe’s Salmow Kernek, which was first performed in Truro Cathedral in 2006 at a concert involving St. Mary’s Singers and choirs from Richard Lander School, Truro High School for Girls and Truro School. The first movement, Out of the Depths, opens with an organ passacaglia which builds gradually and eventually acquires a choral contribution. The movement remains mysterious and haunted with an air of gloom. In I will lift up mine eyes a lyrical choral contribution is underpinned by a rather strenuous organ part. The movement is not as up-beat as the title might suggest though there is a lyrical clarity towards the end. Then finally Praise the Lord my Soul builds to a fine climax involving a lively organ part and a jazzy choral contribution.

Throughout the disc St. Mary’s Singers under Christopher Gray’s fine direction give admirable performances of these tricky pieces. The choir’s sound is good, clean and clear, with a bright, focused top; it sounds a young choir. There are odd moments when the sopranos sound a little pressed at their upper end but this is a small fault given the range that they cover on the disc. All the performances are confident and the choir sing as if they have lived in the pieces for some time, always a good thing when performing new music.

I found most of the works on the disc fell into the well-made and useful category, more of interest when assembling choral programmes for concerts than for listening to at home on CD. But the two Graham Fitkin pieces and Paul Comeau’s Lux Mundi will have me coming back to listen again.

Robert Hugill


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