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Gary DAVISON (b. 1961)
The Armour of Light
My song shall be alway [3:18]
Zion, at thy shining gates [2:51]
The Armour of Light [7:17]
Easter [4:06]
The Banffshire Mass [8:24]
The Wells Service
Te Deum laudamus [7:56]
Jubilate Deo [2:38]
Trumpet Rondo on ‘Laudes Domini’ [3:25]
Sing, my soul, his wondrous love (‘Wedmore’) [2:23]
O Lord, support us [3:24]
Never weather-beaten sail [4:07]
The Santa Fe Canticles (1998)
Magnificat [4:30]
Nunc dimittis [2:32]
The Lord is my light [3:51]
Palace Garden Canticles
Magnificat [5:23]
Nunc dimittis [3:17]
Glory to thee, my God, this night [6:35]
The Choir of Wells Cathedral/Matthew Owens
Jonathan Vaughn (organ); Matthew Souter (viola); Simon Jones (trumpet)
rec. 9-12 June 2014, Wells Cathedral
Texts included
REGENT REGCD452 [76:30]

The American composer, Gary Davison is someone who is clearly steeped in the Anglican/Episcopal musical tradition, not just as a composer but also as an active executant. He’s been Organist and Choirmaster of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac, Maryland for some years. The roots of this present disc lie in a sabbatical period that he spent in the UK in 2006 during which he went to hear a number of cathedral and collegiate choirs sing services. One stop on his journey was in Wells where, he says, he found a particularly warm welcome. His admiration for Matthew Owens and the fine Wells Cathedral choir has inspired him to write several pieces for them and a number of them are included on this programme.

The choir at Wells includes 12 adult male singers – the Vicars Choral; there are four each of altos, tenors and basses. For some years now the choir has benefited from having not only 18 boy trebles but also a similar number of girl choristers. Each of these groups sing services regularly with the Vicars Choral and sometimes the boys and girls sections are involved together. On this occasion, however, it’s the girls who sing with the Vicars Choral and a very pleasing sound these young voices make.

At the risk of stating the obvious The Wells Service was composed for this choir. I don’t know if Davison also wrote a ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’. The Te Deum and Jubilate are for men’s voices with organ. The Te Deum mixes sections of strong music with more reflective passages. I like the way that Davison brings the piece to a subdued close with solo voices, reminding us that the final lines of the hymn are short prayers of intercession. . The Jubilate is, for the most part, a robust setting. Also written for Wells was Glory to thee, my God, this night. In fact this was the first piece that Davison composed for the choir and fittingly he selected familiar words by Thomas Ken (1637-1711), who was Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1685 to 1691. The piece is mainly tranquil and Davison is careful to avoid making the piece a simple strophic setting.

Davison also celebrates his connection to St. Francis Episcopal Church in this programme. The piece which gives the album its title, The Armour of Light, was commissioned to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rector of that church, Rev William M Shand III, which occurred, I believe, in 2007. Rev. Shand retired earlier this year after serving the church of St Francis since 1987. For this piece Davison takes passages from the New Testament in William Tyndale’s translation. A distant, unaccompanied semi chorus sings the scriptural verses while the main choir, accompanied by organ, sings a refrain between each verse as well as the last verse. It’s an effective piece. Rev. Shand is the dedicatee of The Banffshire Mass. This is a concise Missa Brevis – there’s no Creed – set in English for unaccompanied SATB choir.

The programme includes two sets of evening canticles. The Santa Fe Canticles are for trebles, manly singing in unison, and organ. The music is inspired by Davison’s experience of hearing flamenco during a visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Magnificat is lively with exciting interjections and accompaniment from the organ while the Nunc dimittis is more reflective in tone. The Palace Garden Canticles are so entitled because they were written to mark the 35th wedding anniversary of a couple. The prospective groom proposed in the garden of the splendid Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was also an amateur trumpeter and so, unusually, Davison included a prominent part for that instrument in his canticles. The settings strike me as being very successful anyway but the addition to the textures of the shining tone of the trumpet is a significant bonus.

All the music on this disc is attractive and well-crafted though I have to say it doesn’t appear to break much new ground. However, the pieces are very accessible and I’m sure will appeal to choirs and congregations alike, which is surely what Gary Davison intended: this is music written for practical use in the liturgy. His music is given splendid advocacy by Matthew Owens and his fine choir – one would expect nothing less – and Jonathan Vaughn makes an expert contribution at the organ, including an exuberant account of the solo organ work, Trumpet Rondo on ‘Laudes Domini’.

The recorded sound is good and Tom Shorter contributes some useful notes on the music. It’s a minor irritant, however, that the booklet doesn’t include the dates of composition of the individual pieces. It’s possible to infer one or two dates and those written for Wells Cathedral must date from after 2006. It’s a bit disappointing, though, that this basic information could not have been supplied.

John Quinn



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