Judith WEIR (b. 1954)
Choral Music
Psalm 148 (2009) [5:50]
My Guardian Angel (1997) [2:12]
Vertue (2005) [7:13]
Ascending into Heaven (1983) [7:11]
little tree (2004) [6:26]
Wild Mossy Mountains (for organ) (1982) [5:02]
a blue true dream of sky (2003) [3:46]
Madrigal (2008) [2:28]
Two Human Hymns (1995) [2:28]
Illuminare Jerusalem (1985) [2:09]
Drop down, ye heavens, from above (1983) [1:31]
Love bade me welcome (1997) [3:01]
Ettrick Banks (for organ) (1985) [4:41]
Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber/Matthew Fletcher and Annie Lydford (organ)/Jude Carlton (marimba)/Matthew Knight (trombone)
rec. 8-10 July 2010, Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge DDD
Original texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34095 [59:26]

This new recording brings together for the first time on a single disc all but one of Judith Weirís compositions for unaccompanied choir and for choir with accompaniment by a single instrument. Missing are only two pieces, the Missa Del Cid (1988), which I have not heard, and All the Ends of the Earth (1999) for chorus, harp and percussion, which the Gonville and Caius choir has already recorded (SIGCD070).

The music spans the period 1983-2009. The earliest, those dating from 1983-1985, show influences of medieval music, not least in the spare textures. Illuminare Jerusalem is perhaps Judith Weirís best-known work thanks to the exposure it received through the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Kingís College, Cambridge, for which it was written. Itís a very good piece and the present performance, dynamic and energetic, is one of the best Iíve heard. The vocal writing displays quite a kinship with that in Ascending into Heaven, the composerís first major commission for choir. The vocal writing here is consistently interesting. However, whereas in Illuminare Jerusalem the organ part is very small, though telling, the organ plays a key role in Ascending into Heaven. Itís very much an independent part and the influence of Messiaen, which is wholly beneficial, is very apparent.

One regularly hears a choir accompanied by an organ but how often does one come across a piece scored for choir and marimba? little tree is the result of an American commission and, given the use of lower case in the title, you may not be surprised to learn that the three poems which are set came from the pen of e. e. cummings. These brief pieces are scored for high voices only, which produces fresh clean textures and the addition of a marimba is as effective as itís unusual. The subtle and quiet tones of the marimba and the stentorian sound of the trombone are poles apart. A solo trombone joins the choir in the setting of Psalm 148 and mighty effective it is too. This piece was one of a number of psalm settings written to mark the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University. Once again, the unusual combination of instrument and choir works extremely well; the arresting music given to the trombone Ė it sounds to be a moist demanding part Ė complements the choirís paean of praise very well.

Throughout this programme the music is very varied and it shows that Judith Weir is an imaginative and inventive composer for voices. The music is, I should imagine, demanding on the singers yet the demands are never outlandish in the way that some contemporary choral writing is. And whether sheís setting George Herbert or e. e. cummings Miss Weir is always responsive to the texts.

Iíve been impressed with the singing of the Gonville and Caius choir on earlier discs and this new programme maintains that favourable impression. This music canít be easy to sing but Geoffrey Webber has clearly prepared them scrupulously and everything is delivered with splendid assurance. Diction is excellent and the choir sounds well balanced and committed. Their singing gives consistent pleasure and the various solos within individual pieces are all very capably taken. Iím not sure which of the two organists accompanies each of the pieces involving organ but all these parts are done very well indeed.

Matthew Fletcher is credited as the soloist in the two pieces for organ. Both of these pieces involve very imaginative sonorities. The writing in the second piece, Ettrick Banks, strikes me as particularly ingenious, not least the cheeky pay off at the end.

As usual with a Delphian release production values are high. Paul Baxterís engineering is excellent; the recording is clear, truthful and puts just the right amount of ambience round the performers. The very interesting and thorough booklet note is by the conductor, Geoffrey Webber.

This disc offers an excellent survey of Judith Weirís shorter choral music. The pieces really grab the listenerís attention and are well worth hearing. I wonder if Geoffrey Webber and his expert choir might now add a recording of the Missa Del Cid, perhaps utilising the arrangement, which I understand has the composerís blessing, for four-part choir and small instrumental ensemble made by Andrew Parrott.

John Quinn

An excellent survey of Judith Weirís shorter choral music.