O Sacrum Convivium - A Feast of Sacred Music
Choir of King’s College Aberdeen/David J Smith (organ)
rec. 2-4 June 2015, King’s College, University of Aberdeen
Texts and translations included
VOX REGIS VXR0001 [70:44]
This is the inaugural release on the University of Aberdeen’s Vox Regis label. It features the Choir of King’s College, a 19-strong group (4/5/5/5), singing under their Director, David J Smith. He also contributes four solo organ pieces by Bach. These are very stylishly played and also discerningly chosen to punctuate the unaccompanied choral pieces, acting as structural pillars in a well-designed programme.
Besides showcasing this excellent choir the disc offers an opportunity to sample some of the work by composers who are studying or teaching in the university’s music department. Of these the best known is Paul Mealor whose reputation acquired a significant boost in 2011 when two alumni of another Scottish university, St. Andrews, asked him to write a piece, Ubi caritas et amor, for their wedding. Wedding commissions come the way of composers all the time but when the couple in question are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the wedding service is broadcast all over the world that’s exposure of which most composers can only dream. Here the choir performs a slightly earlier piece. Locus iste is a movement from a larger choral work, Sanctuary Haunts. Here Mealor combines very skilfully words from the Mass for the Dedication of a Church and lines by the Scottish poet, Peter Davidson, who is the Professor of Renaissance Studies at Aberdeen University. Davidson’s words come in the second half of the piece and are sung very freely by a soprano soloist while the rest of the choir murmur ‘Locus iste’ in the background. This is a lovely piece.
Three motets by another Aberdeen composer, Philip Cooke, open the programme. The first two are delicate and thoughtful and clearly require considerable control on the part of the singers. O sacrum convivium is also slow and thoughtful but there is more strength of utterance – the harmonic language is a bit more astringent. These are all well-crafted pieces and the choir serves Cooke’s music very well. At the other end of the programme we hear pieces by two American composers who are currently Aberdeen-based. John F Hudson’s Ukrainian Carol is a very attractive piece, clearly influenced by the musical heritage of that part of Europe. Thomas LaVoy’s Ave Maris Stella is rather more ambitious; the choral textures are much more complex. His piece gradually increases in intensity until the textures are teeming and seemingly light-infused. Thus excitement and praise are conveyed. The piece achieves a beguilingly tranquil end. Each composer conducts his own piece.
There’s more familiar fare in the programme too. I was delighted to find two of my favourite Tallis pieces on the menu. If ye love me is beautifully sung. So is O nata lux but here, while respecting the conductor’s infinitely greater knowledge than mine of the music of the period, I take issue with his pacing. O nata lux shouldn’t sound as hasty as this, surely. The performance lacks a sense of mystery and the piece is over and gone before you know it.
The Victoria pieces are very well done; the choir’s balance and blend is admirable. Moving forward in time a few centuries I enjoyed the Stainer very much. It was intelligent planning to place this and the Stanford at this point in the programme for both radiate a sense of hope which is a welcome contrast after the darker music by Purcell, Lotti and Bach heard immediately before. God so loved the world is very well sung, the sound of the choir extremely pleasing and their diction, as elsewhere on the disc, very clear. Justorum animae also fares well; the choir sings with refinement and freshness and in the middle section they are suitably – but not excessively – robust.
I enjoyed this disc very much. The Choir of King’s College consistently sings well – clearly they have been well trained. There are a number of short solo opportunities within the programme and the members of the choir who are allotted these solos acquit themselves very well. The recorded sound is good – the choir is presented clearly and in a pleasing acoustic. The organ, too, is realistically reported by engineer Adrian Hunter.
A further attraction of this disc is that sale proceeds will benefit important research work that’s being done at Aberdeen University into the prevention and early diagnosis of diseases that cause dementia: a worthwhile cause indeed. Details of future releases on the Vox Regis label can be found here.
Philip COOKE (b. 1980) O lux beata Trinitas (2013) [3:59]; Veni Sancte Spiritus (2012) [3:36]; O sacrum convivium (2012) [4:58]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (BWV 701) [1:42]
Thomas TALLIS (c. 1505-1585) If ye love me [1:52]; O nata lux [1:19]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (c. 1548-1611) O magnum mysterium [3:08]; O quam gloriosum [2:54]
Thomas WEELKES (1576-1623) Hosanna to the Son of David [1:52]
Johann Sebastian BACH Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (Fugue on the Magnificat) [4:53]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Hear my prayer [1:45]; Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts [1:58]
Antonio LOTTI (1667-1740) Crucifixus [2:56]
Johann Sebastian BACH Fantasia in C minor (BWV 562) [5:14]
Sir John STAINER (1840-1901) God so loved the world [3:59]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Justorum animae [3:02]
Sir John TAVENER (1944-2013) The Lamb [3:29]
Paul MEALOR (b. 1975) Locus iste (2009) [3:44]
Johann Sebastian BACH O Mensch, bewein' dein Sünde gross (BWV 622)
John F HUDSON (b. 1987) Ukrainian Carol (conducted by the composer) [3:15]
Thomas LaVOY (b. 1990) Ave Maris Stella (conducted by the composer) [6:01]