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Gabriel JACKSON (b.1962)
Sacred Choral Works - Volume II: Beyond the Stars
The Glory of the Lord (2010) [2:31]
Fanfare for St. Mary’s [1:53]
The Christ-child (2009) [4:18]
Hymn to St Margaret of Scotland (2011) [8:36]
Jesu, Rex admirabilis [6:07]
Ah, mine heart (1987) [4:39]
Missa Sanctae Margaretae [14:14]
Justorum animae [4:14]
Vidi aquam [4:53]
Let us all rejoice in the Lord (2008) [2:19]
In all his works (2008) [4:35]
The Land of Spices [4:47]
Ecce venio cito (2005) [5:25]
Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh/Duncan Ferguson
Nicholas Wearne (organ)
rec. 15-16 September, 22-24 November 2011, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh. DDD
Texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34106 [68:38]

Experience Classicsonline


In 2009 I had the pleasure of reviewing two CDs of choral music by Gabriel Jackson, one of which was by the Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh. That disc, which was recorded in 2004/5, was very impressive. It was made under the direction of the then-Organist and Master of the Music, Matthew Owens. Since then Owens has moved on to Wells Cathedral and it’s excellent to see that the cathedral’s advocacy of Gabriel Jackson’s music has continued under Duncan Ferguson. So, Volume II of St. Mary’s exploration of Jackson’s sacred choral music is with us and, happily, it arrives in the year in which he celebrates his 50th birthday. If the disc is designed as a birthday tribute then it’s a handsome one for Ferguson and his fine choir have done the composer proud.
 
Almost all the music here appears on disc for the first time - the exceptions are Justorum animae and The Land of Spices. All the music is of high quality and sounds to be not just extremely well written for voices but also beautifully imagined for voices. By that I mean firstly that Jackson has an exceptionally keen ear for choral textures and sonorities but also that the vocal effects that he employs are always telling and appropriate. Hymn to St Margaret of Scotland offers a good example, I think. In the first part of the work much of Jackson’s writing, which employs such devices as hockets, has what I can only call a Scottish-medieval feel to it - and that’s completely appropriate since he’s setting a medieval Scottish text, though the composer is quoted in the booklet saying that he doesn’t feel the music sounds particularly “Scottish” . To my ears - though I may be off-beam here - there are definite resonances with the style of James MacMillan. Later (at 5:09) there’s an extended treble solo - very well sung here - under which the rest of the choir set up a murmuring background, whispering over and over, and at a very fast speed, the words “Sancta Margarita, ora pro nobis”. That very prosaic description doesn’t do any kind of justice to a fascinating composition. The piece was commissioned by this choir and they gave its first performance just one week before making this recording.
 
The name of St. Margaret - a different saint, I think - occurs in the title of the Mass setting. This was written for St. Margaret’s Church, Oxford. It’s a Missa Brevis with organ accompaniment and it’s an attractive, accessible setting. I suspect that the vocal parts aren’t as demanding as in the other music on the CD but that doesn’t mean the music is any less interesting. Quite a lot of the Gloria is surprisingly subdued in tone, though the conclusion is extrovert and exciting. The Agnus Dei is a heartfelt, albeit restrained prayer for peace.
 
The Christ-child was commissioned for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge. It’s an unaccompanied setting of words by G.K. Chesterton. Predominantly the music takes the form of a gentle lullaby though the emotional temperature rises from time to time in accordance with the text. It’s a very beautiful little piece.
 
I have long felt that one thing that particularly distinguishes Jackson’s vocal writing is his sensitivity to words. That is on display throughout the programme but seems to me to peak in two pieces, Justorum animae and In all his works. In these two exquisite short works there seems to me to be a particularly happy marriage of words and music.
 
The text ofJustorum animae (‘The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God’) is quite well known; the words occur in the Offertory of the Mass for the Feast of All Saints. Jackson’s very beautiful, fluid setting for unaccompanied choir is subtle and, for the most part, gentle and reassuring. To my ears it fits the text like a glove. The words of In all his works may be less familiar. The words are found in the eighth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiasticus. The text begins:
 
’In all his works he praised the Holy One most high with words of glory; with his whole heart he sung songs, and loved him that made him.’  

Jackson wrote this piece in memory of Allan Wicks, the long-serving Master of Music at Canterbury Cathedral, and it was first performed at a Service of Thanksgiving for his life and work that was held in Canterbury Cathedral in May 2010. Jackson had been a chorister at Canterbury under Wicks in the 1970s. What a wonderful text to set in memory of such a distinguished cathedral musician - and a great advocate of contemporary church music. Poignantly, I understand that these words from Ecclesiasticus occur in one of the scriptural readings appointed to be read at daily worship in Canterbury Cathedral - and throughout the Church of England - on the very day that Allan Wicks died. Jackson’s piece is for unaccompanied ATTBB choir and, once again, we find him supremely responsive to the words. The use of male voices only and a mainly quiet dynamic range, gives the piece a lovely air of intimacy. The part writing is fluid and the harmonies are wonderfully subtle. This is an outstanding piece with an air of timelessness to it.
 
There’s an Allan Wicks connection with another piece in this programme. The earliest piece included here is Ah, mine heart, which was given its first performance at Wicks’ last service at Canterbury before his retirement. It’s slightly irritating that not all the dates of composition of the various pieces are supplied in the booklet - some can be deduced. I suspect that most of the music has been composed within the last decade or so.
 
In a good piece of planning In all his works, which is for the three lower voices in the choir is followed by The Land of Spices, which is for trebles only with organ accompaniment. I’ve heard this before and I think it’s a tremendously imaginative piece. The words are by George Herbert, containing much rich imagery, typical of the seventeenth-century English metaphysical poets. Jackson has produced a gently exotic setting which manages to be rarefied and rich at the same time. The organ adds a wonderfully atmospheric accompaniment of soft filigree arabesques. The Edinburgh trebles master its complexities and long lines very well indeed. Incidentally, the title of the CD is found in the penultimate line of Herbert’s poem.
 
In fact, the choir’s singing throughout the programme is marvellous. I’m sure all this music is very rewarding to sing but I’m equally certain that it is very demanding. Yet so far as I can tell - most of the music was unfamiliar to me - the choir rises to and surmounts every challenge. More than that, their performances have tremendous conviction and assurance. Duncan Ferguson has clearly trained his choir superbly. The organ playing of Nicholas Wearne is excellent throughout.
 
As usual with a Delphian release the sound is marvellous. The choir is reported with great clarity and with just the right amount of ambience round the voices. The organ is expertly balanced against the singers and, when heard on its own, as in Fanfare for St. Mary’s, the sound it makes is thrilling.
 
I’m delighted to learn that Jackson’s Requiem for unaccompanied choir, which he wrote for the Vasari Singers in 2008, has been recorded by them; that disc is due out in the autumn. In the meantime this splendid Edinburgh disc will further enhance the reputation not only of the cathedral musicians but also of Gabriel Jackson. This disc confirms that he is one of the finest and most interesting composers of choral music currently before the public. I’ve enjoyed this disc immensely and hope for a Volume III in due course.
 
John Quinn
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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