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Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962)
A ship with unfurled sails
The Voice of the Bard (2007)* [6:35]
Now I have known, O Lord (2004) [7:11]
O Doctor optime (2003)* [3:53]
Missa Triueriensis (2005) [11:42]
Thomas, Jewel of Canterbury (2004) [7:41]
Sanctum est verum lumen (2005) [7:54]
Angeli, archangeli (2007)* [7:27]
A ship with unfurled sails (2009)* [6:50]
Æterna cæli gloria (2007)* [6:36]
Ave regina cælorum (2008)*# [12:27]
The State Choir Latvija/Māris Sirmais
Kaspars Zemītis (electric guitar) #
rec. 11, 12, 15, 18, 19 March, 21 April 2010, St. John’s Church, Riga.
Original texts and English translations included
*Denotes première recording
HYPERION CDA67976 [78:21]

John Quinn’s review of this CD is a pretty full account of its context and contents, and I find myself in agreement with what he says. I had already encountered Gabriel Jackson’s music on CD way back in 2006, which would make this one of my earliest reviews for MWI. It was already clear then that Jackson’s compositional voice was the genuine article - deeply personal and beautifully crafted, continuing a strong British tradition while building a magnificently defined oeuvre which enriches that tradition and keeps it vibrant and alive in our time. The alchemy between superbly written choral music and that potent heritage of Baltic vocal performing comes together inA ship with unfurled sails in a special way, making this one of those ‘must-have’ releases.
What is particularly striking with these pieces is their emotional range. After the energetic The Voice of the Bard which is a tremendous kick-off, we are delivered a remarkable arc which takes us from absolute calm to a climax of stunning intensity. The homophony with which O Doctor optime opens creates a fine frame for the conclusion of this opening trilogy, its inspired conclusion a fitting close to the first ‘act’, if that’s the way you want to hear this nicely structured programme.
The Missa Triueriensis or ‘Truro Mass’ is a fine work which invites and deserves a great deal of affection, it’s often multi-layered techniques creating an on-going sense of communication to go along with some gorgeously expressive music. References to past musical idioms appear in the plainchant moments of Thomas, Jewel of Canterbury, elements of simplicity which are given an impasto treatment, with closely chasing canonic lines generating fields of sound. Sanctum est verum lumen is Jackson’s forty-part homage to Tallis’s Spem in alium. This has already appeared on a Delphinium CD (see review) but this performance is an equally intriguing experience with plenty of fine sounds, though the structural cohesion of the piece is hard to trace amongst the elegant sufficiency of vocal effects.
The title track, A ship with unfurled sails, is where the link between the Baltic and the U.K.’s traditions link closest, with its text by Doris Kaerva. This is a highly atmospheric piece, the vocal undulations reflecting the gentle tides of the Baltic sea, even if this isn’t the work’s main subject.
The final piece, Ave regina caelorum, introduces us to a new sonority of electric guitar. John Quinn had his doubts about this piece, and I tend to agree. The electric guitar has been used in a ‘classical’ setting before of course, and composers such as Georges Lentz have made attempts to establish it as a vehicle for expression far removed from rock music. This is all well and good, but to my ears the contrast between an angelic choir and a distortion pedal is too angular for comfort. There are reasons why the collaboration between Jan Garbarek’s saxophone and the Hilliard Ensemble (see review) is so popular. The sense of music’s ‘breath’ from, say, organ pipes to the bass clarinet into something shared rather than coming from opposite sides of the blanket is a quality which this kind of music seems to demand. This Ave regina caelorum has a conflicted, ‘revise me’ quality which alas doesn’t do great things for the rest of the disc, having as it does some lovely moments and others which sound as if the recording session had been crashed by Bart Simpson.
The final track aside this remains a very fine disc indeed, and deserves to sell in truckloads.
Dominy Clements  

See also reivew by John Quinn