Alexander L’ESTRANGE (b. 1974)
On Eagle’s Wings
New College Service [10.42]
Lighten our Darkness [1.39]
Let All the World in Every Corner Sing [5.53]
The Lord's Prayer [1.46]
Tune Me, O Lord [6.42]
On Eagles' Wings [4.50]
Oculi Omnium [2.51]
My Song is Love Unknown [8.48]
God Be in My Head [1.59]
Panis Angelicus [5.20]
Lute-Book Lullaby [4.39]
Epiphany Carol [5.03]
Let the People Praise You [4.46]
An Irish Blessing [3.56]
James Sherlock (organ)
rec. St Jude's Church, Hampstead, 15-17 April 2015
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD454 [72:03]
I hadn’t come across the music of Alexander L’Estrange before I heard this disc, but I enjoyed it enormously. L’Estrange was a chorister at New College, Oxford, and he writes in the booklet notes that cathedral music and jazz have been his two loves since then. The music on this disc combines the two very well.
The arrangements contain little to frighten the horses. The New College Service, composed to mark the retirement of Edward Higginbottom, is very effective. There are only a few hanging suspensions in the Magnificat, and otherwise it displays a series of beautiful, very effective harmonies, and the Nunc Dimittis has a beautiful bed of sound supporting it. Just like the poem that inspired it, Let all the World grows majestically all through, providing an elated climax after a wonderful build. We get a beautiful, introverted version of The Lord’s Prayer, and God be in My Head is appealingly direct.
More jazzy harmonies abound elsewhere. Lighten our darkness sounds fantastic, a chocolaty bed of sound that is as alluring as the peace for which it pleads. The text of Tune Me, O Lord is an invitation for L’Estrange to play with modes and harmonies, an invitation he takes up with aplomb, right from its wandering, chromatic organ line through to the great blocks of choral chords at its climax. Occuli Omnium is similarly juicy. On Eagle’s Wings, the title track, is a picture of the renewal of strength, drawn from several passages in the Bible which refer to this theme. The music has an exhilarating agility to it, the high voices seeming to spiral upwards like the energy they are depicting. L’Estrange’s take on My Song is Love Unkown is structured not unlike Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia: as the choir sings the English text of Crossman’s hymn, broadly to its familiar melody by John Ireland, a quartet of soloists comments on the text in Latin. If, ultimately, it isn't as successful as Britten’s vision, it’s still very effective, and its rhapsodic music casts its own spell, especially in its gorgeous final stanza.
Three Christmas hymns make the most of L’Estrange’s juicy harmonies. The Lute Book Lullaby is a marvellous harmonic adventure, whose melody and harmony seem to weave in and out of one another. The Epiphany Carol is more melodically direct, but that helps to make it even more appealing, and Hodie‘s celebratory mood is helped by both the spiky vocal line and the jolly organ accompaniment. The final pair is a very effective juxtaposition: Let the People Praise You is grandiose and powerful, while An Irish Blessing is beautifully direct and simple, the most Rutterish thing on the disc, though I doubt that's a comparison that any contemporary choral composer welcomes!
Tenebrae are clearly fans of this music, and it’s great to hear them giving as much to the music of a contemporary composer as they customarily do to composers who have been in the canon for a few centuries already. Definitely worth exploring.