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O My People
Francis GRIER (b. 1955)
The Lord goes up [5:33]
Eric WHITACRE (b. 1970)
A Girl and a Boy [4:37]
Matthew CANN (b. 1972)
In manus tuas (1999)* [3:12]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Lux aeterna (arr. John Cameron) [4:03]
John SANDERS (1933-2003)
The Reproaches [10:21]
Graham KEITCH (b, 1955)
O nata lux* [4:30]
Matthew CANN
Fauxbourdon Magnificat & Nunc dimittis (2012)* [6:52]
O sacrum convivium (2013)* [6:17]
Paul CAREY (b. 1964)
Fishing in the Keep of Silence* [6:56]
African-American spiritual
I want Jesus to walk with me (arr. Erik Meyer, 2011)* [2:43]
Eric William BARNUM (b. 1979)
Flowers for the Altar (2009)* [4:29]
Edgar DAY (1891-1983)
When I survey the wondrous Cross [5:22]
Antiphon/Matthew Cann
rec. 19-21 August 2015, Lady Chapel, Exeter Cathedral
*First recordings
Texts and English translations included

Antiphon is an SATB ensemble of 22 singers (7/6/3/6), formed in 2011 and based in Exeter. Their director is Matthew Cann who, amongst other things has been a Lay Vicar in the Exeter Cathedral Choir since 2006.

This, I rather think, may be Antiphon’s debut recording and for it Matthew Cann has chosen an enterprising programme. Most of the featured composers are living and seven of the works – eight if you count Matthew Cann’s ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’ separately - are here recorded for the first time.

If the programme has a weakness it’s that almost all of the music is in slow or moderate tempo and rather inward in nature. The exception is Francis Grier’s lively Ascension anthem, The Lord goes up. The text is based on verses from Psalm 47 and the swinging 6/8 metre gives an exultant lift to the music. I’ve heard quite a bit of Grier’s music before though I don’t recall coming across this piece, which I enjoyed. Antiphon make a very convincing job of it and I would have liked to hear them do more music in an extrovert vein.

At the heart of the programme is the setting of the Good Friday Reproaches by John Sanders, who was Organist of Gloucester Cathedral between 1967 and 1994. I’m not sure when these Reproaches were composed but there’s a particular reason for their inclusion here. Matthew Cann was a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral during Sanders’ time there and eventually became Head Chorister. He sang in the first performance and broadcast of the Reproaches and I’m delighted to find him acknowledging his Gloucester heritage by including the Sanders setting here. I’ve heard these Reproaches several times and I think Sanders’ setting is a very fine and eloquent one. Cann and his singers do them very well indeed.

We get a chance to hear Cann as a composer. I like very much his setting of the Compline Responsory In manus tuas. The music is in the same key, D flat major, that Sir William Harris used for his two masterly anthems, Bring us, O Lord God and Faire is the Heaven. Cann’s music isn’t as richly-hued as Harris’s but the wonderful warmth of that key signature permeates his setting. It’s a rather beautiful piece and well suited to the evening calm of Compline. If I’m slightly less taken with his ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’ I think the prime reason is that the Magnificat seems to me to be a bit bland. I can understand that he may have wanted to respond to the text in a pensive way but I think that the joyfulness of the Canticle is missed as a result. The approach is rather better suited to the Nunc dimittis.

Cann has taken the chance to advance the music of a local composer from Exeter, Graham Keitch. I like his O nata lux, not least for the way in which Keitch varies his choral textures. The music sounds to be well written for voices and it seems to me to fit the words well. O sacrum convivium relies mainly on long, sustained vocal lines. This writing clearly requires excellent control on the part of the singers and Antiphon give a very good account of the piece.

Among other English music is John Cameron’s arrangement of ‘Nimrod’ from the ‘Enigma’ Variations. I’ve heard this a few times before and I’m still completely unconvinced by it. Cameron’s use of the music to fit the funeral text Lux aeterna seems to me to be fundamentally misconceived. ‘Nimrod’ is not an elegy; Elgar’s friend Jaeger was very much alive at the time the music was written. When the rest of the programme is so enterprising it’s a pity this was included, even if it is well sung. Edgar Day must surely have known Elgar for he was Assistant Organist of Worcester Cathedral for an astonishing five decades (1912-1962). His arrangement of the hymn When I survey the wondrous Cross is an effective one.

Several of the chosen pieces are from across the Atlantic. Eric Whitacre’s piece is well-known. Much less familiar, I imagine, will be Fishing in the Keep of Silence by the American composer, Paul Carey. This sets a poem by his fellow American, Linda Gregg (b 1942). Apart from one brief climactic passage this is a very still, calm piece and I found it very interesting. Also by an American composer is Flowers for the Altar by Eric William Barnum. This is a setting of a carol-poem by a young English poet, Digby Mackworth Dolben (1848-1867). I freely admit I’d not heard of Dolben but I learned from the notes that he was the cousin of a much more illustrious poet, Robert Bridges and he drowned at the age of just 19. Barnum’s setting of his poem is both thoughtful and attractive.

This is an interesting compilation of music though I’m not sure I’d recommend playing the disc through in its entirety; such is the nature of the programme that some of the pieces might seem a bit bland if heard in succession. However, the contents of the programme are well worth hearing and I congratulate Matthew Cann on including so many first recordings. He’s to be congratulated too on the standard of the performances by Antiphon. The choir makes a pleasing, well-blended sound and it’s clear that technically they’re very accomplished. As I said earlier I would have liked to hear them in a few more robust numbers and if I have a criticism of the sound of the choir it is that I would have welcomed a slightly more pronounced bass line.

This is the first disc on the Willowhayne label that has come my way. The recorded sound is very good and the booklet contains useful notes and all the texts.

John Quinn



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