Judith WEIR (b. 1954)
Psalm 148 (2009) [5.50] (1)
My Guardian Angel (1997) [2.12]
Vertue (2005) [7.13]
Ascending into Heaven (1983) [7.11] (3,5,7,8,9)
little tree (2004) [6.26] (2)
Wild Mossy Mountains (1982) [5.02] (9)
a blue true dream of sky (2003) [3.46] (3,4,6)
Madrigal (2008) [2.28]
Two Human Hymns (1995) [2.28] (10)
Illuminare, Jerusalem (1985) [2.09] (10)
Drop down, ye heavens, from above (1983) [1.31]
Love Bade Me Welcome (1995/7) [3.01]
Ettrick Banks (1985) [4.41] (9)
Matthew Knight (trombone) (1)
Jude Carlton (marimba) (2)
Marie-Claire Lindsay (soprano) (3)
Elly Brindle (alto) (4)
Felicity McDermott (alto) (5)
Emma Gullifer (alto) (6)
Pierre Dechant (tenor) (7)
Christopher Dollins (bass) (8)
Matthew Fletcher (organ) (9)
Annie Lydford (organ) (10)
Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber
rec. 8-10 July 2010, Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge
DELPHIAN DCD34095 [59.26]
Amazingly this is the first disc devoted entirely to Judith Weir's choral works.
It contains all of her music for unaccompanied choir or with just one instrument.
The music ranges from her first choral piece in 1983 to the most recent in 2009.
It was recorded by the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge under
their director Geoffrey Webber; though it was actually recorded in the chapel
of Jesus College, with its 2007 organ built by Orgelbau Kuhn of Switzerland.
Weir's setting of Psalm 148 was first performed in a concert including
all the Psalms, celebrating the 800th anniversary of the University
of Cambridge in 2009. It is written for the rather unusual combination of choir
and trombone, with the trombone providing a lively counterpoint to the choir
rather than simply adding the bass notes. This results in some interesting textures.
Though Weir's psalm is designed as a paean of praise, the work is thoughtful
and not at all bumptious.
My Guardian Angel is a short, simple direct piece written in 1997
for the Spitalfields Festival. Except that with Weir, nothing is ever quite
as simple as it appears. Vertue was also written for the same festival
in 2005. It sets three poems of George Herbert. The composer wrote them in memory
of a friend who was a supporter of the festival. Weir responds to Herbert’s
poetry with a directness and subtle plainness that is almost severe. Even in
the third movement, where the harmonic language becomes more anguished, there
is still a directness of utterance.
Ascending into Heaven is Weir's first major choral work. Dating from
1983, it sets a Latin text by Hildebert of Lavardin (1056-1133) (the English
translation in the CD booklet is by Weir herself). The organ plays a large part,
but it doesn't accompany rather than comment on and punctuate the choral parts.
Weir uses some lovely high organ textures that certainly indicate the influence
of Weir's teacher Messiaen. The work uses the contrasts between the organ and
the simpler and more complex choral passages. The choral writing has real clarity
and hints of plainchant, but firmly in the modern idiom. A feeling of rapture
is suggestive of the music of Hildegard.
In little tree Weir sets the poetry of e.e.cummings (a poet that she
seems to have returned to more than once). It comprises three short pieces for
choir and marimba written originally for the Young People's Chorus of New York.
Weir uses three-part chorus for upper voices, expanding into four parts for
the final piece. The marimba forms an interesting adjunct to the textures, acting
as continuo. There is a sense here of Weir matching the apparent simplicity
of cummings' poems, when in fact neither of them is simple at all.
Her early, rather Messiaen-esqe organ piece, Wild Mossy Mountains was
written for the Edinburgh-based organist Michael Bonaventure; the title comes
from the text of a poem by Robert Burns.
Another e.e.cummings setting, a blue true dream of sky was written in
honour of choral director and organist Philip Brunelle and first performed by
his Plymouth Church Choir in Minneapolis. This is a melodically attractive piece
with a rapturous solo soprano part accompanied by the choir.
Madrigal was commissioned by Kings College, Cambridge, in 2008 to celebrate
the 60th birthday of their then chief conductor, Stephen Cleobury
who had himself commissioned Weir's Illuminare Jerusalem. It sets words
from a Sardinian folk-tale based around some pseudo-medieval organum. There
is a folk-like character to the setting, but mixed with something more complex.
Two Human Hymns were commissioned by the University of Aberdeen for the
University's Quincentenary in 1995. These set George Herbert and another 17th
century poet, Henry King. In both pieces the choral part is lyrical with organ
interruptions in the first and toccata-like episodes in the second.
The other commission from Kings College, Cambridge, Illuminare, Jerusalem
was for the 1985 service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The text, rather than Latin,
is an anonymous 15th Century Scottish one. Weir's setting is rhythmically
lively and with an interestingly dense harmonic texture.
Drop down ye heavens, from above was another Cambridge commission, for
Trinity College choir, which was performed in 1983. The text, in English, comes
from the Advent Prose in a lovely hymn-like setting.
Love, bade me welcome is a version of the first of the Two Human Hymns
which Weir made two years after its original composition. It was made for a
choir from Orkney, the Mayfield Singers.
Written in 1985, the final organ piece Ettrick Banks is based on the
Scottish air of that name. This setting combines a flowing texture with denser
In listening to these pieces I kept coming back to the athleticism, intensity
and clarity of Weir's writing. There is often a purity and austerity to the
line of her music which not for the first time feels rather Calvinist. These
pieces are always approachable, but on first acquaintance you feel that you
are missing something. That there is more underneath is evident from repeat
Purity and austerity which feels rather Calvinist yet is always approachable.