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Gabriel JACKSON(b.1962) Sacred Choral Works- Volume II: Beyond
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]
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 Justorumanimae 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 Margaretof 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, Justorumanimae 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 ofJustorumanimae (‘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.
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