Bob CHILCOTT (b. 1955)
Requiem (2010)* [41.49]
Salisbury Motets (2009) [17.56]
Downing Service (2009) [7.23]
Pilgrim Jesus (2010) [2.12]
The Nine Gifts (2010) [4.25]
Jesus, springing (2010) [5.50]
Laurie Ashworth* (soprano); Andrew Staples* (tenor);
Nash Ensemble*, Jonathan Vaughn (organ)
Worcester Cathedral Choir/Matthew Owens
rec. Cathedral Church of St Andrew, Wells, 25-26 May and 21-22 June 2011
HYPERION CDA 67650 [79.39]
The composer is probably sick to death of reviews of his music always beginning with references to his career as a boy chorister when he sang in the famous David Willcocks recording of Fauré’s Requiem. Indeed this is mentioned on the first page of the booklet notes to this release. This might perhaps explain why he has changed his name from Robert Chilcott to plain Bob Chilcott which is the name employed throughout the material supplied with this disc of his choral music from the two-year period between 2009 and 2010. He was certainly “Robert Chilcott” when he wrote Even such is time in 1993.
Here Chilcott writes a Requiem of his own – but the shade of Fauré remains with him, as well as a hint of a theme from Karl Jenkins’s Armed Man (at 2:47 and again later) in the opening movement.* There are two soloists who blend perfectly into the texture. There is no grandstanding or dramatic posturing here, but although Chilcott avoids any setting of the Dies irae with its pictures of the Day of Judgement, the passage in the Offertorio where the mouth of the lion reaches out to claim the sinners cast into Tartarus ruffles the surface of the music with ominous rumblings in the organ and timpani building to some anguished writing for choir. This is then followed by a quiet and very beautiful meditation led by the solo male soloist. This is deeply felt music, and is followed by a setting of the Pie Jesu for solo soprano. Parallels with the Fauré setting are again obvious, but the soprano is here joined by the chorus and the treatment of the words is much more sensuous. Even the sprightly Sanctus with its jubilant Hosanna in excelsis gives way to a more contemplative tone in the Benedictus. In the Agnus Dei the solo tenor muses over a quiet background of organ and chorus. After this the composer introduces a setting in English of Thou knowest, Lord. This brings the most emotionally felt and impassioned music in the work, and the composer responds with immediacy to a text that he loves - as he states in the booklet note. The final Lux aeterna takes the Karl Jenkins-like theme (*) from the opening movement and expands it an emotional way that leaves Jenkins far behind. There is no In paradisum to bring the work to a spiritual conclusion; instead the boy trebles of the Wells Cathedral choir meditate on the words of the opening Requiem aeternam. This is a very beautiful work which, despite the occasional influences of other composers, is well capable of making an impression in its own right. Unlike some of the work of John Rutter - which in some ways it also resembles - it never shows any signs of becoming trite or trivial.
The four Salisbury motets are more withdrawn pieces, with accompaniment by organ only. The opening setting of I sing of a maiden comes into competition not only with the setting by Britten in A ceremony of carols but also with that by Francis Pott from nine years earlier which I reviewed recently on a Naxos release. Chilcott treats the poem even more contemplatively than Pott, taking his cue from the words He came all so still which Britten altogether ignores. When to the Temple Mary went sets a rather sentimental poem by John Troutbeck (1832-99) which incorporates a rhymed paraphrase of the opening words of the Nunc dimittis. Here Chilcott dispenses with the organ altogether and lends the well-known text an intensity which Troutbeck’s rhymes lack. The choir sounds slightly strained in the forte upper passages, but subside into gently impressionist textures at the words “May we gently fall asleep and with thee wake.” The setting of Lovely tear of lovely eye adds a tubular bell towards the end - played rather reticently by Alfie Johnson, the leading boy chorister from the Wells choir - to the organ accompaniment and the melody of the recurring refrain is beautifully treated. The final Hail, star of the sea most radiant is more outgoing. We are informed in the booklet note that the original performance of these motets was given in Salisbury Cathedral by more than 500 choristers, and one can imagine that the fortissimo outbursts were positively thrilling; given by the much smaller forces (34 singers) of Wells Cathedral they can sound rather under-powered no matter how polished the choir’s performance.
The Downing Service gives us settings of the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis which are fine in themselves but nothing special. The composer seems to be overly fascinated with the rhythmic tricks he employs in the Magnificat, and less with the meaning of the words themselves. The brevity of the setting - presumably designed for liturgical use - does not allow him time for a more involved response. The setting of the shorter text of the Nunc dimittis is nearly twice as long, and is much more expressive with a prominent organ counter-melody which raises the emotional temperature considerably. The setting of the closing doxology is much more involving than that given to the Magnificat.
The three final items on the disc are all settings of poems by Kevin Crossley-Holland in the form of carols; the first was written to a text supplied by Philip Brunelle for his Minneapolis choir, and inspired the composer to compose the other two. The poems themselves are gems. The first carol, Pilgrim Jesus, begins with rhythmic tricks reminiscent of John Rutter, but develops more contrapuntally; the second, The nine gifts, affords Chilcott the opportunity for a number of animal and other imitations which the choir embrace with great glee. However following the gift of the stone – “the word that is silent” – the bar of silence which follows could have been extended more dramatically. The final carol, Jesus, springing, restores tranquillity and brings the disc to a superbly contemplative ending.
With the reservations concerning the size of the choir in the Salisbury motets, this is a superbly performed collection of what are all first recordings. The engineers capture the acoustic of the cathedral ideally, with a good balance between choir and organ and the small chamber orchestra in the Requiem. One would be happy to encounter any of this music again and one hopes that other choirs will take some of these works up.
(*) This is not to say that it is a ‘crib’ from Karl Jenkins. It is a version of the time-honoured phrase 1-(3)-5-6-5 which has been used for spiritual ecstasy from time immemorial – think of the hymn tune York used by Vaughan Williams for the Holy City in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the German carol In dulci jubilo, the English hymn Holy, holy, holy Lord God almighty, and many others – but with a fall to the fourth instead of the fifth on the final note of the phrase, which also happens to be the configuration used by Jenkins.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
A superbly performed collection of what are all first recordings.