least two previous recordings for Chandos by this professional
choir, previously known as the Phoenix Bach Choir, have
been reviewed on Music Web International. In partnership
with the Kansas City Chorale they have recorded music by
Rheinberger (see review
and a particularly warmly received disc of music by Grechaninov
Now, renamed the Phoenix Chorale and once again under the
direction of their Artistic Director, Charles Bruffy, they
appear by themselves in a recital of music in honour of
the Virgin Mary.
The venue for the recording
is the same one in which the Rheinberger disc was set down,
namely the Camelback Bible Church, Paradise Valley, and
the combination of that building’s acoustic and the skill
of the Chandos engineers has produced a very pleasing sound – which
I heard as a conventional CD - in which warm ambience and
detail are nicely combined. The singing is of a very high
order throughout the recital. The choir consists of twenty-four
singers, six to each part, and if there are any lapses
in blend or tuning then I couldn’t spot them. The choral
sound is consistently, clear, well focused and bright.
In short, it’s a pleasure to listen to this choir.
musical programme also gives much pleasure. There’s a judicious
leavening of familiar items, including a fluid account
of Britten’s early Hymn to the Virgin
and Howells’ rather
ubiquitous A Spotless Rose
. The latter is the one
disappointment in the recital. The pace is just a touch
too deliberate and this gorgeous piece sounds, for once,
to have feet of clay.
remainder of the programme is less familiar. I’d never
encountered the music of the Spanish composer, Javier Busto,
but I was much taken with his pair of Marian pieces. Ave
, here receiving its first recording, exhibits
delicate beauty, especially in the solo soprano line. The
music of Ave Maria
is much simpler. It’s a gentle,
lovely setting and. like its companion, well worth hearing.
That’s true also of Celia McDowall’s Three Latin Motets
I’ve come across these settings before on a Dutton Epoch
CD (CDLX 7197) and I was impressed with them on that occasion.
They make a similarly positive impression here and I’d
single out for special mention the beautifully blended
performance of the first of the set, ‘Ave Regina’ and also
the beguiling clarity and sweetness of the women’s voices
in the second motet, ‘Ave Maria’
The British composer,
Healey Willan, dedicated most of his working life to the
service of church music in Canada, writing a substantial
body of music for worship. He wrote in a conservative vein
but his music is always effective and I like his music
very much, not least for its sincerity and directness of
communication. The three short motets offered here are
pretty typical of his style. These are gentle pieces and
Bruffy and his singers make an excellent job of them.
main work in the programme is the four-movement Electa
Jean Belmont Ford. Commissioned by Charles Bruffy’s other
choir, the Kansas City Chorale, the work dates from 1995.
The scoring is somewhat unusual in that the choir is unaccompanied,
save for a bass drum and a single timpano, both played
by the same player. The notes state that the composer “draws
on various liturgical texts to weave a tapestry of praise
to the Virgin Mary.” However, only the last two movements
are settings of Marian texts. The work is sung in Latin.
opening movement, ‘De Profundis’, is a dark and austere
setting of words from Psalm 130 for men’s voices and drum.
The second movement combines the verse from Psalm 51 that
constitutes the antiphon ‘Asperges me’ and lines from the
Nicene Creed. The third section, ‘Ave, dulcissima Maria’ is
much warmer in tone than either of the preceding movements – the
composer describes the music as “euphoric.” The final,
and most extended, section is a setting of the Magnificat.
This begins with a florid, dramatic soprano solo, underpinned
by strongly rhythmic drumming and interjections from the
male voices. When the full choir enters the music is vigorous
and celebratory but before long the tempo relaxes and the
mood becomes much more thoughtful. The concluding doxology
is highly effective. At the start the inspiration of plainchant
is very evident but the conclusion is much more vigorous
and ecstatic – the score is marked “Triumphantly”. Electa
a most interesting work and this first recording of it
is highly accomplished and very successful.
is an excellent disc, well worth the attention of collectors
of choral music. It’s a little surprising that it’s had
to wait over three years for release but its appearance
now is very welcome.