David BEDNALL (b.1979)
Hail, gladdening Light and other choral works
Easter Alleluia (2005) [1:58]
The Wells Service (2005)
Te Deum [8:28]
Jubilate [3:37]
Come, Holy Ghost (2002) [6{18]
Lux et Origo. Alternatim Mass for Douai Abbey (2005) [12:25]
The Wells Service
Benedicite, Omnia Opera [7:42]
Benedictus [7:36]
Hail, gladdening Light (2006) [5:32]
Adagio for Organ (2002) [9:30]
The Gloucester Service (2001)
Magnificat [6:48]
Nunc Dimittis [5:30]
Wells Cathedral Choir/Matthew Owens
David Bednall (organ)
rec. Wells Cathedral, 9-11 May 2006. DDD
Original texts and English translations included
REGENT REGCD247 [75:16]
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 there.
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 compositional voice.
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 Wells choir.
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.
John Quinn  

Another fine CD of music by a young British composer who seems likely to have a very considerable career as a composer of liturgical music.