from the Classical Shop
Bob CHILCOTT (b. 1955)
Oculi Omnia [2:23]
Morten LAURIDSEN (b. 1943)
O Nata Lux (1997) [4:12]
Eric WHITACRE (b. 1970)
Lux Aurumque (2000) [3:42]
Even such is time (1993) [11:02]
High Flight* [5:48]
This Marriage [2:45]
O Magnum Mysterium (1994)** [6:33]
Alone (2011) [3:32]
The Stolen Child (2008)* [8:50]
A Thanksgiving (2008)* [3:32]
The King’s Singers; The Concordia Choir/René Clausen
rec. 13-17 May 2011 St. Mary’s Church, Harrow, UK ; *10 May 2010,
St Joseph’s Church, Moorhead, MS, USA; **2003 St Joseph’s Church,
Moorhead, MS, USA
Original texts and English translations included
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD262 [60:10]
This disc features music by three composers whose choral music
is currently amongst the most widely performed, certainly in
the English-speaking world. It brings together that supremely
versatile ensemble, The King’s Singers, and an American choir,
The Concordia Choir. Based in Moorhead, Minnesota, the choir
has been established since 1920 though I’m sorry to say I don’t
think I’ve heard them before. On the evidence of their contributions
to this disc that’s my loss because the choir is a highly proficient
ensemble. It numbers 72 singers and they’ve clearly been prepared
scrupulously by their conductor, René Clausen. He’s been in
charge since 1986 and is only the third conductor in the choir’s
The programme is built around three works - High Flight,
This Stolen Child and A Thanksgiving - which
were written for the 40th anniversary of The King’s
Singers in 2008 and all of which are scored for the group plus
Fittingly, quite a lot of the music on the disc is by Bob Chilcott,
who was a tenor with The King’s Singers for twelve years until
1997 when he left to pursue a career as a full-time composer.
Oculi Omnia, written while he was still with the group,
I think, is a short setting of a verse from Psalm 145, which
I don’t recall hearing before. It’s a lovely piece, beautifully
written and, like everything else that The King’s Singers do
on this disc, it’s fastidiously performed. However, I’d really
like to hear it sung by a “conventional” choir. This performance
sounds too studied, too immaculate.
Even such is time sets four poems by e.e.cummings,
James Joyce, Philip Larkin and Sir Walter Raleigh – it’s the
last of these poems that furnishes the work with its title.
I don’t know about this work; maybe it’s because I find the
texts by cummings and Joyce pretty impenetrable but this work
didn’t really hit the spot for me in the way that Chilcott’s
music usually does. One problem may lie with the use of the
countertenors – or the way that these particular countertenors
sing. Their staccato passages in the first movement, the cummings
setting, sound a bit precious at times – the same material appears
better integrated and more pleasing when it’s given to lower
voices. The Joyce poem, which comes next, is more mellifluous;
here the tenors carry a melodic line over a slow-moving chorale
in the other parts. The Larkin poem is set in a lively, staccato
scherzo and, to conclude, Raleigh’s famous poem, written as
he awaited execution, is thoughtfully set.
I was much more taken with High Flight in which, imaginatively,
Chilcott brings together some words by the English metaphysical
poet, Henry Vaughan (1621-1695) and lines written by a young
wartime Spitfire pilot, John Gillespie Magee (1922-1941) whose
words convey the thrill experienced by a young man when flying.
At the start of the piece, as The King’s Singers slowly sing
Vaughan’s words while the SATB choir provides a murmuring background,
Chilcott achieves in his music an extraordinary stillness and
sense of anticipation. The music for Magee’s words (from 3:40)
is much faster and more urgent. There’s a real contrast between
the enthusiasm of youth (Magee) and the reflective tone of a
more mature adult (Vaughan) and Chilcott marries the two strands
most effectively in a very effective piece. A Thanksgiving
is a setting of a well-known prayer of St Richard of Chichester
(1197-1253). It’s a very beautiful little piece. Though the
music is quite sophisticated Chilcott manages to achieve an
air of touching simplicity.
I’ve heard Lauridsen’s lovely O Nata Lux in many performances,
ranging from the large choral forces of the Los Angeles Master
to smaller ensembles such as Polyphony (review).
The King’s Singers’ version is interesting in that the great
clarity of six voices allows one to hear every strand with utter
clarity but, as with Chilcott’s Oculi Omnia, I prefer
to hear a slightly larger group in this music – a choir the
size of Polyphony is the optimum experience, I think. Without
wishing to labour the point the same holds true for Whitacre’s
Lux Aurumque though his This Marriage works
well with six voices.
The excellent Concordia Choir offers two numbers by itself.
The first is Lauridsen‘s ubiquitous O Magnum Mysterium.
Though I love this rapt piece I do feel it’s in danger of being
done to death. That said, the present very fine performance
amply vindicates its inclusion here. It also points up, I think,
in the greater richness and depth of tone, especially in the
quieter passages, what is missing on the first three tracks
of this CD. The Concordia Choir also does very well in Whitacre’s
Whitacre unites both ensembles in The Stolen Child.
Here Whitacre sets words by W.B.Yeats, a poem inspired by an
Irish legend of faeries tempting a little child to run away
with them and the child’s last-minute, futile recognition of
what is happening to him. It’s a strange piece, as befits its
mythical subject, in which Whitacre writes most imaginatively
for voices and produces some intriguing choral textures. The
juxtaposition of the small ensemble and the larger choir opens
up some fascinating textural possibilities which the composer
exploits very cleverly. Alone is a very recent piece,
sung by The King’s Singers and written by Whitacre as a companion
piece – a prelude – to The Stolen Child. It sets some
rather dark and troubled words by Edgar Allan Poe and the music
is suitably potent.
This collection includes some very interesting vocal music.
I have to admit to some reservations about The King’s Singers.
I admire their flawless professionalism but I do wonder if it’s
all just a little bit too perfect and rather calculating.
Others may not share that view, of course,
and it has to be said that the singing of both ensembles is
consistently excellent. The recordings were made by three sets
of engineers, working at various times in two different locations.
However, the results are uniformly good.