Paul EDWARDS (b. 1955)
God be in my head
O joyful light of the heavenly glory (2000) [1:00]
Evening Service in C sharp minor(1980):Magnificat [3:42] and Nunc Dimittis [2:35]
Great shepherd of thy people(1990) [3:40]
O dear and lovely brother(1979) [1:14]
Hymn: Saviour, who didst healing give(2003) [2:46]
O gladsome light, O grace (1980) [1:48]
Bread of heaven(2001) [2:02]
Behold us, Lord(2003) [2:17]
Hold thou my hands(2000) [2:16]
O dearest Lord, thy sacred head(1982) [2:22]
Blessed are those servants(1996) [2:41]
Come, healing cross(1997) [2:17]
O Lord, how manifold are thy works (1996) [2:07]
Round me falls the night(1988) [4:00]
Come, dearest Lord(1983) [2:11]
Carol of the birds (2007)[2:10]
Requiem Mass(1999) [17:41]
Hymn: O love that wilt not let me go(1994) [2:27]
How shall I sing that majesty(1993) [5:49]
God be in my head (2002) [2:03]
The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge/Sarah MacDonald
Clive So (organ); Ian Tindale (organ)
rec. 8-9 January 2010, Selwyn College Chapel, Cambridge. DDD
English texts and Latin text with English translation (Requiem) included
REGENT REGCD339 [69:07]
Paul Edwards, who will be fifty-six on 19 March 2011, the date that this review is published, will be familiar to many through his Christmas carol, No Small Wonder (1983). He is a prolific composer: several of the pieces included here bear opus numbers higher than 400 and in addition I suspect he doesn’t allocate opus numbers to his hymn tunes, of which he has written some 150.
In his accompanying notes he enlightens us as to the composers who he most admires and who have influenced him most. Those wholly beneficial influences aside, it seems to me that a strong sense of place pervades much of the music offered here - the place of composition or the place for which the music was composed is important in many cases. It’s also striking how many of the pieces were written for or at the request of specific individuals or church choirs. And Edwards is also very clear that words mean a great deal to him: happily, he’s served here by a choir whose diction is exemplary.
Edwards has for many years been the Organist at a variety of churches. It seems to me, on the evidence of this disc, that his music is eminently performable. There’s no sign of writing that’s just clever for the sake of being clever but which, in the process, strains the abilities of the performers. Everything that’s included here is, I should judge, well within the capabilities of a good, well-trained choir - though that’s not to imply that the music doesn’t present technical challenges. So this is music that’s definitely for use. It’s practical and it’s concise: the longest single item or movement in the programme lasts for less than six minutes. And it’s music that falls gratefully on the ear and, I should imagine, on the vocal chords.
The most substantial piece here is the Requiem. This is a fine example of Edwards’s concision: nine movements last for less than eighteen minutes in total. The work is for a cappella choir except for the fifth movement, ‘Pie Jesu’, in which a solo soprano is accompanied by organ, and the last movement, ‘In Paradisum’, in which the organ supports the choir. Edwards cites the Requiem of Maurice Duruflé as an influence, declaring that he can hardly think of a choral work that he loves more. While I might not quite go that far I share completely his enthusiasm for that French masterpiece.
Short it may be, but Edwards’s Requiem is lovely. Throughout, the textures are light. Edwards employs a refined harmonic palette and the score abounds in lovely, flowing melodies. The music is dignified, pure in tone and very beautiful. Sarah MacDonald and her fine choir give a committed and wholly convincing performance. Soprano Alexia Prakas sings the solo ‘Pie Jesu’ touchingly and confidently, her tone clear and pure. For the most part the music is gentle and luminous though in the penultimate movement, ‘Libera me’, there’s bite in the staccato writing. The concluding, gently radiant ‘In Paradisum’ shows the most overt influence of Duruflé’s Requiem and is none the worse for that.
I also liked Edwards’s ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’, which have a gentle, pastoral air. More sturdy are the two hymn tunes, both of which are in the best traditions of Anglican hymnody. He says that his tune for O love that wilt not let me go is his own favourite among his hymn tunes but I must say I like the firm, confident melody for Saviour, who didst healing give. How shall I sing that majesty is well known as a hymn but here it becomes a substantial and effective anthem.
Christmas music is represented not by the well-known No Small Wonder; instead we get a welcome chance to encounter his effective setting of Hilaire Belloc’s Carol of the birds. Edwards isn’t, on this evidence, a composer who storms the heavens but O Lord, how manifold are thy works is a strong, forthright piece with an important independent organ part.
All the music in this programme is expertly crafted and very effective. I don’t know how widely Paul Edwards’s music is performed by church choirs but he deserves to have his music taken up by good quality collegiate, cathedral and parish church choirs. One choir that seems to have taken him to their hearts is the Selwyn College Choir - they sang his God be in my head when they were invited to sing Evensong at Westminster Abbey in 2010. Here they do him proud with excellent singing that’s clear, polished and committed. The College’s two Organ Scholars contribute well to several of the pieces. Sarah MacDonald has obviously trained the choir very thoroughly and she leads them most effectively throughout the programme.
I’ve enjoyed this disc very much and I’m particularly glad to have encountered the Requiem.
A collection of expertly crafted and very effective English church music in excellent performances.