All Shall be Well
Roxanna PANUFNIK (b. 1968)
All Shall be Well (2009)* [7:26]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Nunc dimittis (1915) [2:53]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Valiant-for-Truth (1940) [4:53]
Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Bogoroditsye Dyevo (1915) [2:24]
John TAVENER (b. 1944)
Svyati (1995)* [10:59]
Henryk GÓRECKI (1933-2010)
Totus Tuus (1987) [8:06]
Jaakko MÄNTYJÄRVI (b. 1963)
O magnum mysterium [4:17]
Pierre VILLETTE (1926-1998)
Hymne à la Vierge [3:47]
Knut NYSTEDT (b, 1915)
Stabat Mater (1986)*[15:22]
*Richard May (cello)
Exultate Singers/David Ogden
rec. 11-12 June 2011, St. George’s, Bristol, UK. DDD
Original texts and English translations included
NAXOS 8.572760 [61:11]
David Ogden has been a leading light in the musical community of Bristol and the surrounding area for some time now, including a spell as Director of Music at the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral. He founded the Exultate Singers in 2002 and though this isn’t their first recording I believe it’s the first time that they’ve appeared on the Naxos label.
It’s an auspicious Naxos debut, not least in terms of the chosen repertoire for although only one piece, the one by Roxanna Panufnik, is receiving its first recording here I fancy that some other pieces, including those by Nystedt and Mäntyjärvi, will be unfamiliar to many collectors, as they were to me.
Roxanna Panufnik’s All Shall be Well was commissioned by the choir to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s one of three pieces on the programme for which the choir, which otherwise sings unaccompanied throughout, is joined by cellist Richard May. Panufnik has combined two texts in her piece, one a medieval plainchant hymn sung by Polish knights as they went into battle, the other some more well-known lines by the English mystic, Julian of Norwich (1342-c1416). The composer describes her work as a “conversation” between the two texts. The singers are divided into two a cappella choirs, separated (physically, I imagine) by the cellist. The result is a most interesting and effective piece in which, fittingly, the composer reserves more mystical music for the words of Julian of Norwich. The performance seems to be very committed and certainly convinced this listener.
The other two works that feature the cellist are those by Tavener and Nystedt. The Tavener effectively offers a mélange of his Orthodox-influenced choral music and The Protecting Veil. The choral writing is hypnotic and rather beautiful while the cello part, which May plays superbly, is often impassioned. However, my feeling is that, especially in the vocal writing, Tavener makes a little go rather a long way - he only sets eight words of text - and the piece outstays its welcome somewhat. Knut Nystedt is probably best known for his highly imaginative piece Immortal Bach (1988). His Stabat Mater, written slightly earlier, is an intense, challenging piece - challenging for the listener and, I’m certain, for the performers. The cellist injects plaintive urgency into the music and this urgency is echoed by the singers. It’s a stark, powerful piece and though the musical language is accessible it’s certainly not a comfortable listening experience - nor should it be.
Most of the other pieces are fairly well known though the piece by Finnish composer, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi was completely new to me. He joins the ever-lengthening list of composers who have set the Christmas text O magnum mysterium and his is a fine setting. The choral textures are fairly full throughout, though never thick. The music exudes a sense of mystery but the piece moves forward with quiet purpose, at least in this performance.
Which brings me to the one point of criticism I have about this disc. David Ogden directs the choir very well indeed and they are splendidly prepared. However, in a couple of the pieces I felt he pressed the tempo a little too fast. One such is the Vaughan Williams motet. This can be the very devil to pace, not least because the passages of quasi-recitative in particular can give the impression of stop-start. Ogden certainly avoids falling into this trap but it seems to me that he takes the whole piece just a bit too quickly and, in so doing, misses out on some of the mystery and sense of space that RVW’s piece needs. The other work with which I felt rather uncomfortable was the Górecki. Again, this can pose interpretative challenges because the composer does make a pretty limited amount of music go a long way. However, the music needs space and I don’t feel this is quite achieved here. It’s instructive that this performance takes a fraction over eight minutes whereas most of those that I’ve heard have come it at around the ten minute mark - and over eleven minutes in one case, though I think that’s perhaps a little too much of a good thing.
On the other hand, the fluent tempo for Pierre Villette’s exquisite little miniature seems ideal to me and the popular Rachmaninov piece is very well done; the fervour is built impressively as the music unfolds.
On this showing the Exultate Singers are a very good choir and the enterprise of their programme is highly commendable. The recorded sound is good and the documentation will be helpful to anyone coming new to some or all of this music though the texts of the Górecki and Villette pieces are not printed, presumably for copyright reasons.
A very good choir in an enterprising programme.