Last year I reviewed
an excellent recording of David Bednall’s very fine Requiem
and, indeed, I made it one of my Recordings of the Year for
2010. Subsequently, a disc of shorter choral pieces by him came
my way (review),
performed by Matthew Owens and the splendid Wells Cathedral
Choir. Now I’ve caught up with an earlier release by the
same choir of Bednall’s liturgical music on which he himself
joins them as organist.
The Wells connection runs through this programme very strongly.
Bednall was successively Senior Organ Scholar and Sub Organist
at the cathedral from 2002 to 2007. The Easter Alleluia
was written for Matthew Owens and the cathedral choir, as was
The Wells Morning Service and Hail, gladdening Light.
Bednall has also served at Gloucester Cathedral between 2000
and 2002 and The Gloucester Service dates from his time
In his very useful booklet note David Bednall tells us how important
to him are the words he sets - that should be obvious to anyone
listening to his music, I think. He also says that he seeks
“to try to deliver an emotional charge in order to challenge
the listener to think afresh about the words being sung.”
Well, there’s plenty of emotional charge in the music
on this disc, yet one never feels that the composer is simply
seeking to make an effect for the sake of it. The Easter
Alleluia, for example, gives the programme an explosive
start and in it Bednall conveys the unbridled joy and awe that
the Resurrection can and should inspire in Christian believers.
At the other end of the scale, as it were, is the alternatim
Mass for Douai Abbey, Lux et Origo. This is a
most beautiful and quietly impressive work. Founded on the chant
for the proper of the Mass in Eastertide, which gives the Mass
its title, this is a Missa Brevis - no Credo - in four short
movements for unaccompanied choir. The polyphonic sections are
also very clearly rooted in chant and the music has a timeless,
monastic feel to it that I found most moving. It’s beautifully
sung here and I mean it as a definite compliment to both composer
and singers when I say that between them they make the music
sound simple and direct when, in fact, I’m certain it’s
musically both sophisticated and demanding.
Much more complex is a lot of the music in the Wells Service
yet here again, for all the musical sophistication, there’s
a directness of expression in Bednall’s music that makes
it extremely effective. The Te Deum is imposing and often
exciting, yet it also contains some quiet and very lovely sections,
such as we hear at ‘Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven’.
Its companion, the Jubilate, is a resourceful and joyful
setting that culminates in an exuberant doxology.
To me doxologies in the Canticles is a small but important hallmark
of a good composer of church music - one thinks of Howells and
Stanford in particular. Like them Bednall can write an effective
doxology. I’ve mentioned the one that concludes the Wells
Jubilate. The Wells Benedicite and Benedictus
both conclude with the same, gentle doxology, which is prayerful
and lovely, while the doxology that ends the impressive Gloucester
Magnificat is, frankly, inspiring.
These choral pieces are clearly the work of someone who knows
how to write for the human voice and how to bring out the best
in singers by challenging them and giving them rewarding music
to sing. But it’s also music that’s written by someone
who knows a thing or two about the organ! - sample, for example,
the jagged, and highly effective, loud organ chords that accompany
the words ‘He hath shewed strength with his arm’
in the Gloucester Magnificat. Again the dancing 7/8 accompaniment
to the main section of Easter Alleluia brings great propulsive
energy to the music - and it’s just right. Many times
in this recital one finds - and revels in - the mixture of French
and English musical influences that inform David Bednall’s
The organ is featured in one solo item, the Adagio for Organ.
It was written in the year that he moved from Gloucester cathedral
to Wells. I wonder which of the cathedral organs inspired him
- both are exceedingly fine instruments. Here he’s at
the Wells console to play this darkly impressive piece. Dynamically
the piece describes something of an arch, beginning fairly quietly
and rising to a hugely powerful, extended climax before dying
away into silence. It’s an intense, brooding work, which
Bednall plays superbly and the engineers have captured the magnificence
of the Wells organ to thrilling effect.
In fact, the recorded sound throughout the disc is first class.
The choir is clearly reported, with the right degree of resonance
around their sound. The organ is well balanced and registers
with great presence and truthfulness. The choir for this recording
comprises the girl choristers and the lay clerks. Overall the
standard of singing is excellent. My only slight reservation
is that while most of the solos are well taken I did feel that
there were a few occasions - most notably in Easter Alleluia
and in the Wells Te Deum where the tenor and bass soloists push
the sound too much and sound somewhat strained and harsh. But,
that apart, this is yet another impressive achievement by the
There’s a great deal of excellent, well-crafted and vividly
communicative music on this CD. On the evidence of the three
discs of his music that I’ve heard so far, David Bednall
seems likely to have a very considerable career as a composer
of liturgical music.