RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Henryk GÓRECKI (1933-2010)
Totus Tuus - Choral Music
Euntes ibant et flebant, Op 32 (1972) [8:50]
Lobgesang, Op. 76 (2000) [9:25]
Totus Tuus, Op. 60 (1987) [9:35]
Salve, Sidus Polonorum, Op. 72 (2000) [26:13]
Amen, Op. 35 (1975) [7:40]
National Youth Choir of Great Britain/Mike Brewer
rec. 26 August, 2010, Merton College Chapel, Oxford; 15 April, 26 August 2011, Chapel of Oundle School. DDD
Original texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34054 [61:47]
The start of Totus Tuus is a vivid illustration of what’s so good about this disc. There’s tremendous depth of tone – but no forcing of tone – in the choir’s delivery of the loud opening chords. This is attention-grabbing, impressive singing and it points the way to a seriously good performance of the best known piece on this programme, not least on account of the fantastic dynamic control and range of dynamics.
Most, if not all, of the recordings of Totus Tuus that I’ve heard have been by chamber-sized choirs. The National Youth Choir of Great Britain is a large ensemble and that brings its own rewards, especially since, despite the number of singers the choir never sounds unwieldy nor is the sound bloated. Indeed, it’s a most flexible ensemble. I’ve heard several discs by this choir and I’ve always been impressed by its great discipline and control, not least in the matter of dynamics. Attack is unfailingly unanimous and there’s an impressive tightness about the ensemble work. All this is clearly the result of a huge amount of detailed work in rehearsal. Mike Brewer must rehearse them scrupulously. Yet take a look at the photos of the choir in rehearsal in the booklet and see the eagerness and enthusiasm on the faces of the singers! Rehearsal in the NYCGB doesn’t seem to be a chore and when they hear the sort of results that are on this disc I bet the singers feel all the hard work has really paid off.
The execution of the remainder of the programme matches the high standards set in Totus Tuus. Euntes ibant et flebant, the first of Górecki’s unaccompanied sacred works, is a setting of words from Psalms 126 and 95. On the surface the musical means are fairly simple but the piece is sophisticated and impressive and it must require great control to sustain the long lines. The performance on this CD is thrillingly intense. Amen, with which the programme concludes, is hewn from the same rock of inspiration. This piece includes some blazingly affirmative climaxes – or, at least, they are in this performance – and this is another occasion when the tonal depth of the choir is tremendously impressive.
The largest-scale piece here is the three-movement Salve, Sidus Polonorum (Hail, star of the Polish people.) In his highly informative notes Ivan Moody says that the music was extracted by Górecki from a much larger oratorio about St. Wojciech (also known as St Adalbert), an early Polish Christian missionary, martyred in 997. This subject matter must have resonated strongly with the composer, writing the work between 1997 and 2000, in the years after Poland emerged from the long years of Communist rule to be, once again, a proudly independent and Catholic nation. Salve, Sidus Polonorum deploys a small ensemble of organ, piano and three percussionists – all but the organist is a member of the choir – though the ensemble is sparingly yet tellingly used.
The first of the three movements, which runs for nearly half of the work’s full length, is very slow and devotional. The music is fervent even when quiet and the singing is gently punctuated by an occasional tolling bell. The second movement includes some words in Polish – all the rest is in Latin – and begins with a sustained passage of very beautiful, hushed homophonic choral writing. Suddenly (at 2:44) there’s an eruption of joyful praise in which the instrumentalists reinforce the choir. Here the singing of the NYCGB is especially full-throated. This section culminates (5:44) in a series of huge tam-tam strokes, which are, in the true sense of the word, awesome. This is followed by a return of the opening words and music. Listeners should be warned that the last 45 seconds or so of the piece consists of four ultra-soft deep gong strokes, fading into an extended silence. Even through headphones it’s hard to pick this up but the effect is potent. The concluding movement is a jubilant paean of praise and, incidentally, contains the only music on the disc that’s in a quick tempo. I’d not heard Salve, Sidus Polonorum before and I found it an impressive piece. My only reservation is that the first and last movements contain passages in which the same material is repeated over and over again – or so it sounds. Perhaps some judicious editing by the composer would not have come amiss.
This disc is yet another formidable achievement in what is becoming a pleasingly long list of first class recordings by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and Mike Brewer. I have yet to hear a disc by them that is not impressive and this latest one is seriously impressive. Apart from the sheer quality of the singing, which is itself cause for celebration, it’s marvellous to know that large numbers of young people are being trained to sing at the highest level of accomplishment and that, in the process, they are being exposed to some remarkably adventurous repertoire. Every time I hear this choir sing the sheer enthusiasm for the music really comes across. Surely the future of choral singing in the UK is bright.
Collectors who regularly buy Delphian CDs will know that engineer Paul Baxter consistently produces superb recordings. The sound quality on Delphian discs is always clear, atmospheric and truthful. The label, therefore, always presents both artists and music in the best possible way and this latest offering is no exception. As usual, Delphian’s documentation is first class and clearly laid out.
Yet again Mike Brewer and his fine choir have taken interesting repertoire and served it very well.
Another formidable achievement by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and Mike Brewer.