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Nicholas JACKSON (b. 1934)
Behold a Great Priest (1980) [1:35]
Mass for a Saint’s Day(1966) [22:25]
Tantum ergo(2005) [3:08]
Requiem(1976-2006) [27:48]
The Rood(1982) [1:33]
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis(1975) [5:01]
I will give thanks(1981) [3:16]
Salve Regina(1983) [3:12]
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in the Lydian Mode(1975) [3:59]
Te Deum and Jubilate (1984) [7:02]
Laura Oldfield (soprano); Emily Beahan (soprano); Peter Davoren (tenor); Francis Williams (tenor); Henry Jones (alto); David de Winter (tenor); Julian Debreuil (bass); David Goode (organ); Jeremy Filsell (organ)
The Rodolfus Choir/Ralph Allwood
rec. Eton College Chapel, 10-12 August 2006, 27 July 2007. DDD
Texts included
NAXOS 8.570959 [75:50]

Experience Classicsonline

This is the second CD that Naxos has devoted to the music of Nicholas Jackson. There’s also a disc on which he plays his own organ music in Chartres Cathedral and is joined by two trumpeters in pieces for trumpet(s) and organ (8.554773). I’ve not heard that one but the list of contents includes the Elevation and Toccata for solo organ. These, I presume, are the same pieces that frame the Mass for a Saint’s Day on the present release: they come from a suite entitled Four Images, the composer tells us in his note. That earlier disc also includes Jackson’s Organ Mass which he arranged from some of the movements of his Missa cum Jubilo; we shall encounter that Mass, in a slightly different guise, on this present disc.
Nicholas Jackson, a composition pupil of both Edmund Rubbra and John Gardner, has had a very busy career as a performing musician besides his work as a composer. His performing career included spells as organist of two London churches before he served as Organist and Master of the Choristers at St. David’s Cathedral in Wales (1977-84). The present programme illustrates the work of a skilled and imaginative composer and also one with a very practical knowledge of church music. Though the pieces are recognisably of and firmly rooted in the English choral tradition the writing for organ, both as a solo or accompanying instrument, often shows a marked Gallic influence.
The disc includes two quite substantial pieces. The Mass for a Saint’s Day was Jackson’s first choral work. As I indicated earlier, the Mass is prefaced here by theElevation for solo organ while the Toccata rounds off the proceedings in great style. I liked this English Mass setting very much. Of particular note is the Credo in which a slower, pensive middle section, beginning at “Who for us men and for our salvation”, is framed by confident, energetic outer panels. The Agnus Dei is suitably reflective. The Gloria, like the Credo, has a calm, prayerful central section but a driving, exciting toccata-like organ accompaniment underpins the extrovert outer stretches. The Toccata itself is a thrilling appendage to the Mass. It’s splendid stuff, very French in character, and it’s thrillingly dispatched by Jeremy Filsell. Congratulations also to the engineers who have recorded the Eton College Chapel organ resplendently.
The Requiem is an enlargement of Jackson’s 1976 Missa cum Jubilo. Thirty years later the composer added four more movements: Introit, Pie Jesu, Libera me and In Paradisum. The result is what strikes me as a slightly odd hybrid. For one thing most of the setting is in English but, with the exception of the Introit, the four added movements are in Latin. Then the setting retains the Gloria and Credo. So far as I’m aware the Gloria is neither sung nor recited at a Requiem Mass and though the Creed may be recited I’ve not come across a musical setting of the Mass for the Dead that includes it. The Requiem concludes with an organ solo, Carillon, which is based on thematic material from the Kyrie. It’s a very exciting, virtuoso piece - and David Goode gives a stunning account of it - but it seems oddly out of place in the context of a Requiem, especially when the In Paradisum has provided a serene conclusion. My advice would be to hit the pause button beforeCarillon begins and then enjoy it separately after letting the Requiem settle for a few moments. Perhaps the answer is to be found on the composer’s website where I see that the four 2006 movements, which are published separately, are described as a ‘Supplement to Missa cum Jubilo’. In his notes that accompany this disc Nicholas Jackson tells us that “much of the work incorporates plainsong themes, as are heard in the works of Duruflé”. I didn’t detect that the plainsong is as close to the surface as it is in the French composer’s own masterly Requiem but it’s there all right and the organ part is certainly indebted to the French school, and none the worse for that. The Requiem contains some fine music, including a lovely Pie Jesu - for soprano solo, beautifully sung here - a fluid Benedictus and a gently luminous Agnus Dei. Jackson also follows Duruflé in eschewing what I might term the “fire and brimstone” aspect of the Mass for the Dead.
The short works include Behold a Great Priest. This is a forthright and exciting opening to the programme and the organ part is superb. There are two settings of the Evening Canticles, both dating from 1975. The Lydian Mode setting is described as for solo soprano and organ though I wonder if it could also be performed by unison trebles. This is an attractive set of canticles and Laura Oldfield makes a very fine job of the solo part. The other set of canticles is a choral setting, written for Canterbury Cathedral during the time that Alan Wicks was Master of the Music there. The Magnificat is arresting; it’s big stuff. The Nunc Dimittis, which includes a significant tenor solo, is more relaxed. The Te Deum and Jubilate stemmed from a Welsh Arts Council commission and were first performed at St David’s in 1984, presumably as Jackson’s time as Organist there drew to a close. The Te Deum is as succinct as it’s impressive though I thought the ending was a bit abrupt.
All of this music was new to me but I’ve enjoyed making its acquaintance and found it rewarding. My appreciation of it was enhanced by the standard of the performances. The Rodolfus Choir has long been recognised as one of the finest ensembles of young singers in the UK and, arguably, in the world. Under Ralph Allwood’s direction the technical standards are amazingly high and the performances are committed and assured. All the soloists acquit themselves very well. It is, to say the least, a considerable bonus to have two of Britain’s finest organists on hand to do justice to Jackson’s demanding and imaginative writing for the organ.
The recorded sound is excellent and the composer’s own notes are helpful.
Nicholas Jackson’s liturgical music is impressive and it’s been splendidly served here.
John Quinn  

See also review by Robert Hugill

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