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 harmonies.
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 hearings.
Robert Hugill
Purity and austerity which feels rather Calvinist yet is always approachable.