One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Plain text for smartphones
and printers

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount



Support us financially by purchasing this disc from:

John McCABE (b. 1939)
Visions - Choral Music
Three Marian Carols (2008/1973/1964) [8:54]
Mangan Triptych (1983/1980/1979) [28:04]
Amen / Alleluia (1991) [5:19]
Proud Songsters (1989) [2:41]
The Lily-White Rose (2009) [4:22]
The Morning Watch (1968) [4:25]
The Evening Watch (2003) [5:47]
Great Lord of Lords (1967) [3:15]
A Hymne to God the Father (1966) [3:20]
The Last and Greatest Herald (2008) [5:39]
Iain Farrington (organ); BBC Singers/David Hill
rec. 19 February 2009, 2 July 2010, St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, London
NAXOS 8.573053 [71:49]

Experience Classicsonline

I wish that I had heard the opening Three Marian Carols during the Christmas season. They are amongst the most beautiful examples of the carol writers art that I have come across in a long time.
These evocative numbers have been collected from the composer’s previously published works and are grouped for this recording: they cover a span of 48 years. The earliest, ‘Mary laid her child’ dates from 1964 and is a setting of a poem by the 20th century ‘Lakeland’ poet Norman Nicholson. This is a poetic mediation based on the idea that Jesus was born near a ‘miry frozen farm’. The location of the nativity has been moved from Bethlehem to Bassenthwaite, maybe. The music reflects the cold, the frost, and a glimmer of warmth from a fire in the barn. The poem concludes with an intimation of the crucifixion.
‘Dormi Jesus’ was written nearly a decade later and is based on an anonymous 15th century text. This is a heart-achingly beautiful carol that balances bitter-sweet harmonies with a lovely soprano solo. The most recent is ‘I sing of a maiden’ (2008) which is based on another anonymous text. This well-balanced carol utilises a semi-chorus alongside the main body of singers. All three numbers work well as a group. The composer has written in the liner notes that ‘writing carols has been a constant pleasure throughout [his] career, as relaxation from sterner stuff … as a way of participating in the great tradition of music for the community.’
I found the Mangan Triptych difficult to come to terms with. It is not that the music is ‘difficult’ or unapproachable: it is just that the work as presented here is too long –at least for me. However, this is not a huge problem as each of the three ‘panels’ were composed for a different occasion and appear to have been performed separately. Taking them one at a time would be my recommendation for a listening strategy. James Clarence Mangan was born in Dublin in 1803. After an education at a Jesuit school, he worked as a lawyer’s clerk, then for the Ordnance Survey and latterly as an assistant in Trinity College Library. His early poetry was apparently ‘a-political’ but after the Great Famine, he began to explore Irish nationalistic themes. He had a tragic life, being afflicted with illness, depression and irrational fears. He was an eccentric – appearing on Dublin streets wearing a long cloak, green spectacles and a blonde wig. In 1849, he died of cholera; his health had in any event been compromised by malnutrition, poverty, opium and alcohol. W.B. Yeats considered Mangan to be one of the best Irish poets.
John McCabe states in the liner-notes that he was ‘immediately impressed … with the characteristically Irish rhetorical power and vivid imagery’ [of the poetry]. He considers that it has ‘a powerful visionary quality’.
Three things need to be said. The text is full of allusions, metaphors and symbols. The meaning does not jump out at the listener. I was reminded of the English poet Christopher Smart in the complexity and convoluted nature of the imagery. Secondly, John McCabe has brought some impressive music to these settings. It is characterised by almost continual invention. The musical content has McCabe’s usual characteristic of a wide-ranging harmonic language ranging from the acerbic to the meltingly beautiful. There are times when the poet’s mental turmoil is reflected, although there is much that is pensive and heart-easing. Finally, this work could (should?) be regarded as a ‘choral symphony’ for eight-part choir. As such the composer has stated that he prefers the ‘movements’ given in the order presented on this disc. It is a work that will challenge the listener.
‘Amen/Alleluia’ was written in 1981 for the William Ferris Chorale in Chicago for their twentieth anniversary concert. Apart from the title, there are no words in this composition: it is effectively a ‘deconstruction’ of the syllables. The ‘amen’ part of the work is slow whilst the ‘alleluia’ begins quietly and builds up to a scorching climax. It could be argued that the repetition of two words over a five-minute span is either a bit experimental or somewhat Handelian. However, as an exercise in sound it makes an interesting point, even if the text is not too imaginative.
I enjoyed the descriptive setting of Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘Proud Songsters’. It does indeed capture ‘the vigour of young birds singing and the evanescent nature of their existence’. ‘The Lily-White Rose’ is extracted from a larger work, Songs of the Garden (2004/2009) for soloists, chorus and full orchestra (or ensemble). The present motet is a moving arrangement for SATB.
I imagine that the ‘Morning’ and the ‘Evening Watch’ will often be performed ‘back to back’ in spite of some 36 years separating their composition. Both texts are derived from the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan (1621-1695) who was a ‘metaphysical’ poet. There is an interesting stylistic contrast between the two texts and their setting. The organ is used to considerable effect in the latter.
‘Great Lord of Lords’ is a good piece to follow the introverted dialogue between the body and soul of the ‘Evening Watch’. This is a big powerful setting of a song of praise that creates an impressive balance between choir and organ.
‘A Hymne to God the Father’ (1966) is a reserved setting of a poem by John Donne. The harmony is often bitter-sweet with only occasional relaxation. McCabe uses three soloists to impart intimacy.
The final setting, ‘The Last and Greatest Herald’, opens with an impressive organ flourish. The text is by the Scottish poet, William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649) and examines the contribution to the Christian story made by St. John the Baptist during his sojourn in the desert. The choral writing is typically massive and vibrant, with contrasting sections of thoughtful music. The work ends with a huge climax urging the listener to ‘Repent! Repent!’ Throughout, the organ is busy providing an intricate accompaniment that is almost ‘jazzy’ in places. A great finish to the programme.
This is a handsomely presented production. The singing by the BBC Singers under David Hill is perfect. Every nuance of McCabe’s music is clear and well-defined: the words are always audible. Most of the music on this disc is a cappella; however the remainder has an organ accompaniment. I must not forget the excellent playing by Iain Farrington, who is also a composer, as well as an organist and pianist.
The liner-notes are by John McCabe – so no potential for argument there. The texts of all the works are included along with a translation of ‘Dormi Jesu’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
This disc can be recommended to anyone who appreciates modern but accessible choral music. For those listeners who only know this composer through his large-scale works such as the ballets, the Chagall Windows or Cloudcatcher Fell for brass band, this disc will be an eye-opening exploration of a facet of McCabe’s music that is little represented in the CD catalogues.

John France

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from:



































































Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.