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Bob CHILCOTT (b.1955)
Sun, Moon, Sea and Stars - Songs and Arrangements

Tenebrae Consort/Nigel Short
rec. 1-3 July 2015, Fotheringhay Church of St Mary and All Saints, Northamptonshire; 15 July 2015, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London
Texts and translations included
BENE ARTE SIGCD903 [63:44]

In a note in the booklet accompanying this CD, Bob Chilcott reminds us how important light music has been during his career. He recalls making arrangements for the Swingle Singers and for the King’s Singers – he was a member of that group between 1985 and 1997. He also did a good deal of arranging of both vocal and orchestral music for BBC Radio 2. Although much of that work took place in the early days of his career I don’t believe he’s ever lost track of that side of things. This present disc reflects that side of his work. There are a few original compositions but most of the music here consists of songs, many of them traditional, that Bob Chilcott has arranged over the years.

With the exception of the last three tracks on the disc the performances are given by a consort of just five singers – two sopranos, a tenor and two basses. It seems to me that the influence of groups such as the Swingle Singers and the King’s Singers hovers – benignly - over these performances. Perhaps that’s not entirely a surprise since the performers include one ex-Swingle and a former King’s Singer while director Nigel Short is also an alumnus of the King’s Singers.

Folk song arrangements feature strongly and the programme includes three such songs from Canada and three more each from North America and France. There are even a couple of arrangements of Japanese folk songs – sung in the original language – while Tuoll’ on mun kultani is a Finnish song and is sung in the language of that country. Many of the songs are slow and beautiful though there are some lively ones, such as the irrepressible Montagnarde from France, which provide pleasing contrast.

The three Canadian songs are delightful. I especially liked the haunting She's Like the Swallow while the arrangement of the lively Feller from Fortune is clever and witty; here the switch to a very gentle lullaby, in French, at the end is a lovely surprise.

Two of the North American traditional songs are well known. Shenandoah is the only item in the programme that is accompanied – by an unnamed pianist; here the vocal parts are very exposed and need expert singers to do them justice, a task for which Nigel Short’s team are definitely equipped.

Among the original pieces Sun, Moon, Sea and Stars, which gives the album its title, features very close harmony writing. I’d say that this track is definitely suitable for mellow late-night listening. Swimming Over London and Marriage to my Lady Poverty are both settings of poems by Chilcott’s frequent collaborator, Charles Bennett. The former is a plaintive piece with faintly blues-inflected close harmonies. I’m not quite sure I completely get the meaning of the words in Marriage to my Lady Poverty – I need to study them more – but the words and music are most interesting.

A couple of numbers pay homage to past masters of the popular song. The arrangement of Kern’s Go Little Boat is delightful. Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm is upbeat and the arrangement calls for tremendously dexterous singing; of course, the Tenebrae Consort make it sound so easy.

The three closing tracks were recorded in a different location – All Hallows Church – and a larger group of singers (2/2/2/4) is used. All have in common that they are settings of sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century English texts. The gently passionate Thou, My Love, Art Fair is a setting of words by William Baldwin (1515-1563). Here is the only instance on the disc where I would have any reservation about the quality of the singing; the bass line – and one singer in particular, I think – is far too prominent for my taste though oddly that’s not an issue on the two succeeding tracks. The concluding item is a touching setting of the famous lines by Sir Walter Raleigh.

These pieces, whether original or arrangements, show consistent skill, flair and imagination. Chilcott’s delight in teasing out the possibilities of a tune while remaining faithful to it is very evident, as is his pleasure in writing for voices. It’s hard to imagine that the pieces could be in better hands for the expert voices of the Tenebrae Consort relish the wit and sophistication of Chilcott’s inventions. This is a thoroughly entertaining disc and I loved it.

John Quinn

En La Macarenita (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [2:40]
Sun, Moon, Sea and Stars [3:38]
Feller from Fortune (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [4:16]
She's Like the Swallow (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [4:34]
L'habitant de Saint Barbe (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [0:56]
The Lazy Man (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [1:33]
Shenandoah (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [3:50]
The Gift to be Simple (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [2:14]
Swimming Over London [3:54]
Go Little Boat (Jerome Kern arr. Chilcott) [2:26]
Fascinating Rhythm (George Gershwin arr Chilcott) [1:23]
Con amores, la mi madre (Juan de Anchieta arr. Chilcott) [2:19]
Là-bas dans cette plaine (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [2:03]
Viens par le pré (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [3:13]
Montagnarde (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [3:06]
Aka tombo (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [2:19]
Furusato (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [2:56]
Tuoll’ on mun kultani (Trad. arr. Chilcott) [2:57]
Marriage to my Lady Poverty [5:00]
Thou, My Love, Art Fair [3:47]
Touch Her Soft Lips (Sir William Walton arr. Chilcott) [1:58]
Even Such Is Time [2:42]


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