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Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962) Vox Clara
Vox Clara ecce intonate (2013)* [4:44]
Seven Advent Antiphons (2014)* [18:03]
Herzliebster Jesus, was hast du verbrochen (organ solo) (2012)* [2:43]
That wind blowing and that tide (2015)* [6:02]
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (Truro Service) (2001) [6:16]
Holy is the true light (2013)* [[3:41]
Aria for Joel and Vicki (2015)* [8:19]
Cantate Domino (2013) [5:42]
Confirma hoc Deus (2014)* [3:04]
Factus est repente (2014)* [4:46]
Missa Triueriensis (2005) [11:49]
Joel Garthwaite (saxophone); Luke Bond (organ)
Truro Cathedral Choir/Christopher Gray
rec. 5-8 May 2015, Truro Cathedral
*denotes first recording
Texts and English translations included REGENT REGCD479 [75:16]
Around the turn of the century Gabriel Jackson’s parents retired to Cornwall. An unexpected, happy consequence of that relocation was that it led their son into a working relationship with Truro Cathedral choir which lasts to this day. Jackson has written no fewer than seven pieces for the choir: five of them are included here and the other two have already been recorded by them. One of these is Nowell sing we (2006) (review); the other is Salve Regina (2000) (review). This new disc, which celebrates resoundingly this extended collaboration between choir and composer, contains no fewer than eight first recordings though not every work on the disc was written for the Truro choir.
In fact it may be sensible to begin by considering the non-Truro Cathedral works in the programme. Strictly speaking one such is the instrumental work, Aria for Joel and Vicki. This was written for the marriage of saxophonist, Joel Garthwaite and his wife, Vicky in 2015. Though the wedding did not take place in Truro there is a link to the cathedral because Joel Garthwaite and Luke Bond gave an ‘unofficial ‘premiere there a couple of months before the wedding. I guess Garthwaite was keen to play the piece and knew that it wouldn’t really be feasible for him to combine the duties of bridegroom and saxophonist on the Big Day. In the event, one of his ushers did the honours at the wedding itself. The marriage took place in a church which has a small two-manual organ and this restricted the scope of the organ part that Jackson could write. The result is a most attractive piece for tenor sax and organ in which the mellow timbre of the reed instrument blends very well with the deliberately light textures of the organ part.
Confirma hoc Deus and Factus est repente are companion pieces commissioned by the parents of a chorister at Westminster Cathedral. The texts are respectively the Offertory and Communion antiphons for the Mass of Pentecost. Both are dramatic in their different ways - Confirma hoc Deus is the more extrovert of the two. Fittingly, given the nature of the commission, both pieces give the treble section a thorough work-out in which the Truro boys seem to revel. Holy is the true light has a Westminster connection too but this time the link is with Westminster Abbey. The piece was commissioned by a Lay Vicar at the Abbey to mark his retirement after thirty years of service. Jackson writes that he sought to convey a “refulgent glow” in this unaccompanied piece. The text itself cries out for music that is suffused with light as anyone who knows Hymnus Paradisi by Howells will recognise. Jackson’s music meets that requirement handsomely, rising eventually to a radiant climax that is full of inner energy before sinking back to a quiet, serene close.
The other non-Truro choral piece on the programme is Vox Clara ecce intonate though actually there’s a strong if indirect Truro link. Andrew Nethsingha was Director of Music at Truro from 1994 to 2002 so the link with Gabriel Jackson began in the closing years of his tenure. From Truro Nethsingha moved to Gloucester Cathedral and thence to St John’s College, Cambridge. It was for St Johns, and specifically for the college’s annual Advent Sunday carol service that Nethsingha commissioned this piece from Jackson. The piece is a setting of a Latin Advent hymn, the opening line of which, in J M Neale’s English translation, is ‘A thrilling voice by Jordan rings’. Jackson ingeniously uses an obbligato alto saxophone which he deploys in various ways throughout the five stanzas of the hymn in ways that range from an arresting, strident part in the opening verse to more mellow blending with the choir elsewhere. The choral writing is highly effective and the use of the saxophone brilliantly suggestive.
The organ prelude Herzliebster Jesus, was hast du verbrochen (‘Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended’) was commissioned by Merton College, Oxford and I heard it there in April 2014 when I attended the premiere of Jackson’s The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ (review). The piece is part of the Orgelbüchlein Project through which many composers have been invited to compose chorale preludes to complete the 118 ‘missing’ pieces in Bach’s collection to which he gave only titles. Jackson’s contribution is short but effective. The melody in the right hand is highly decorated, albeit in a subdued fashion. What really grabs my attention, however, are the irregular chords in the left hand and pedals which punctuate the piece. I don’t know if this is the intention but to me they suggest the faltering trudge of the exhausted Christ, bowed down by the weight of his cross. Luke Bond plays the piece very well.
There’s a Merton connection to the Seven Advent Antiphons. In 2012, as part of the Merton Choirbook project seven composers were commissioned each to compose a setting of one of the so-called Great ‘O’ antiphons. Jackson was invited to set the fourth antiphon, ‘O Clavis David’ and the collection was recorded by the Merton College choir (review). A couple of years later Jackson decided to incorporate ‘O Clavis David’ into a complete set of the antiphons for the Truro Cathedral choir to sing at their 2014 Advent liturgy. These are now recorded compete for the first time. These verses are sung or recited as Magnificat antiphons at Vespers or Evensong between 17 and 23 December. Jackson says that he tried to craft each one so as to give the sense of a prelude to something and I think he has succeeded. Each setting conveys a sense of expectancy and the expectation heightens incrementally until in the seventh one, ‘O Emanuel’. The music becomes urgently expectant. The antiphons receive splendid performances here and I’d single out especially the excellent treble soloist, Harry Flint who carries the musical argument in the penultimate antiphon, ‘O Rex Gentium’. Incidentally if you haven’t heard ‘O Clavis David’ before don’t be disconcerted by what seems at first hearing to be extraneous whispering picked up by the microphones; it’s deliberate.
The Truro choir has already recorded Missa Triueriensis under Christopher Gray’s predecessor, Robert Sharpe, though that is a recording I’ve not heard (review). It’s a very good, deliberately concise setting of the Mass for unaccompanied voices. Jackson says that the setting, written to mark his father’s 75th birthday, is ‘about’ Tudor music – there are a number of influences – and ‘about’ the Truro choir. The Gloria is admirably concise and varied while the bell-like chords that open the Sanctus certainly grab the attention. The choir has also already set down, this time under Christopher Gray’s direction, Cantate Domino (review). Here the opening is very impressive with fresh-sounding trebles heard against a lightly dancing organ part. The piece effectively mixes joyful music and passages that are more reflective before achieving a quiet conclusion. As ever with this composer the choral writing is full of interest and in this piece the organ part adds significant excitement. The Truro ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’ are more restrained. Asked initially for a fauxbourdon setting, Jackson came up with his own ingenious take on that style of writing, using monodic and fairly plain homophonic writing for alternate verses. There’s an interesting harmonic shift for the doxology of each canticle and this device serves to punctuate the music as would happen if, in an accompanied setting, the organ set a different tone at this point.
The only piece I’ve not mentioned is That wind blowing and that tide. This is a setting of Kipling’s famous poem, My Boy Jack and in many ways it epitomises the working relationship between this composer and this choir. Invited to write a piece commemorating World War I, Jackson held a workshop with the Truro choristers and Christopher Gray. From the booklet notes it’s clear that the ideas put forward by the boys had a big input into the piece which resulted. It’s for trebles divided into two groups so that the ‘two voices’ of the poem can be differentiated. One group sings a cappella while the other is discreetly accompanied by the organ. An obbligato saxophone weaves in and out of the texture illustrating the wind referred to in the poem. The Truro trebles sing the music very well but, then, it is in a very real sense their piece.
The disc is full of imaginatively crafted music which gives further evidence of why Gabriel Jackson is so highly regarded as a choral composer. The music is challenging to sing, I’m sure, but as is his wont no outrageous, unmusical demands are made on the singers. Furthermore in each piece the music seems to constitute an unerring response to the chosen text. The singing of the Truro Cathedral choir is uniformly excellent. I’ve heard several of their previous discs and never been disappointed but this latest one is as fine as any I’ve heard from them.
The recorded sound is very good indeed and the documentation, which includes valuable notes by the composer, is comprehensive.