In Memoriam William BYRD (1539/40-1623) Laudibus in sanctis [5:18] Matthew KANER (b 1986) Duo seraphim [5:09] Gareth WILSON (b 1976) Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (Collegium Regale) [11:00] Silvina MILSTEIN (b 1956) ushnarasmou – untimely spring [8:42] Francis POTT (b 1957) Nigra sum sed formosa [6:30] Jean L’HÉRITIER (c 1480 – c 1551) Nigra sum sed formosa [5:31] Robert BUSIAKIEWICZ (b 1990) Ego sum resurrectio et vita [2:27] Rob KEELEY (b 1960) Magnificat and Nunc dimittis [7:07] Antony PITTS (b 1969) Pie Jesu (Prayer of the Heart) [12:33] Matthew MARTIN (b 1976) An Invocation to the Holy Spirit [2:43] Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525-1594) Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui [4:38] Jacob CLEMENS Non Papa (c 1510-1555/6) Ego flos campi [5:27] Francis GRIER (b 1955) Panis angelicus [2:46]
The Choir of King’s College, London/Gareth Wilson
rec. 22-24 June 2015, Church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, London
Texts and English translations included DELPHIAN DCD34146 [79:59]
The sudden death of David Trendell (1964-2014), who succumbed to a brain haemorrhage in November 2014, must have been a hammer-blow to the community of King’s College, London and especially to the members of its choir. He was only fifty years old and though he had already enjoyed a career of no little distinction he would surely have achieved much more. An organist, musicologist, teacher and choral trainer, he had been senior lecturer and director of music at King’s College since 1992.
To mark his passing – and to celebrate the work he had done at King’s - the choir has recorded this CD which draws together many strands but in particular his love and deep knowledge of Golden Age polyphony and also his wide-ranging musical interest. So the programme includes four polyphonic pieces. The remaining music includes contributions from former colleagues of David Trendell at King’s - Gareth Wilson, Silvia Milstein, Rob Keeley – and from some of his former students – Matthew Kaner and Robert Busiakiewicz. Most of the new pieces – all of which here receive their first recordings – have been composed specifically in memory of David Trendell; in fact, I think I’m right in saying that only the ‘Mag’ and Nunc’ by Rob Keeley, composed in 2006, don’t fall into that category. The choir is directed by Gareth Wilson who became acting director of music on Trendell’s death, serving in that post until August 2015.
The polyphonic music is all well chosen – and well sung. Byrd’s Latin metrical paraphrase of Psalm 150 gets things off to a splendid start and, I think, sends out a signal that though this disc may be a memorial it’s not going to be a mournful affair. Byrd’s teeming polyphony is done with energy, skill and clarity. We learn from the notes that Byrd was David Trendell’s favourite composer. I suspect that he would have been proud of this joyful performance. The piece by Jean L’héritier is sung in Trendell’s own edition. The choir gives a lovely performance of this piece with its long-spun lines though I had the impression, perhaps wrongly, that the tone of the tenors was a little thin in comparison to other sections of the choir. Near the end of the recital Palestrina’s setting of words from the Song of Songs is well done; the refined beauty of Palestrina’s music seems to be something of a contrast with the almost erotic nature of the words. For me the pick of the bunch among these polyphonic offerings, both as music and performance, is Ego flos campi by Clemens non Papa. We’re told that this was a favourite piece of Trendell’s and perhaps the choir steps up an extra gear because of this? They sing this serene music quite beautifully and everything seems to be in perfect proportion, a comment that could just as easily apply to the music itself.
There are some interesting offerings among the contemporary compositions. Francis Pott contributes a characteristically well-crafted and thoughtful setting of Nigra sum sed Formosa. He starts with the same text as L’héritier but then sets an expanded version of it. The music has some beguiling textures – it’s a finely woven musical tapestry. For the most part the music is gentle and contemplative. From time to time solo voices soar out of and over the main choir and special praise is due for principal soprano, Lindsey James. The hushed end of Pott’s piece is very lovely. Incidentally, though the Pott piece precedes the L’héritier on the disc I found it was quite rewarding to play his composition second.
Matthew Kaner’s piece is for three separate choirs – high, medium and low voices – and exploits the differences and space between them effectively. I had the impression that the highest voices often dominated and I wondered if this was by design or simply reflected the numbers and relative strengths of voice in the sections of this particular choir. Gareth Wilson’s ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’ bear the title Collegium Regale but they were written specifically for this choir and not for the other one in Cambridge. The Magnificat is a strongly projected piece; both the choral writing and the independent – and important – organ part are full of interest and incident. This is a dynamic composition. By contrast the ‘Nunc’ is sung for the most part by the upper voices with organ. The music is subdued and rather fragile at first but rises from hushed intensity to a more overt intensity, especially when the male voices join in for the doxology. This is an impressive set of Canticles. I’m afraid I found Rob Keeley’s set, scored for women’s voices and organ, less interesting though it’s sung with no little confidence.
Francis Grier is typically challenging in his short setting of Panis angelicus. Here a solo soprano and tenor carol above a subdued three-part male voice choir. The tonality is very ambiguous and it’s a strange but effective piece. The two soloists, Charlotte Nohavicka and James Rhoads, do well. Not for the first time I found myself drawn strongly to a piece by Matthew Martin. His An Invocation to the Holy Spirit is very gentle and pensive and Martin uses harmony to touching effect.
The Choir of King’s College do David Trendell’s memory proud here. I’ve admired several of their previous discs and I mean it as a sincere compliment when I say that his passing does not appear to have affected their standards. Clearly Gareth Wilson had stepped into the breach to excellent effect; he has trained them very well in what must have been a musically and emotionally demanding programme. The pieces that are accompanied, namely the two sets of Canticles, benefit from excellent playing by the college’s organ scholars, Graham Thorpe and Alexander May.
Gareth Wilson has now moved on, to Girton College Cambridge, and it will be interesting to see how this choir develops under its new, young director of music, Joseph Fort.
As is invariably the case, Delphian’s production values are high. Paul Baxter has recorded the choir with his customary skill and clarity. The notes are by Michael Emery who manages to combine in them with great success a tribute to David Trendell and useful comments about the music.