I was somewhat relieved to read in the booklet that the two part-songs by
Herbert Murrill were new to Nigel Short. Like several other items on this
programme the Murrill pieces were previously unknown to me so it's
reassuring to find that so experienced a singer and choral conductor was
previously unaware of them.
Both of the Murrill songs take for their texts lines from Twelfth
and as we reach the end of the 'Shakespeare 400' year I'm glad to
have encountered them. They're exquisite songs, expertly laid out for the
choir, and they constitute excellent responses to The Bard's words. The
second of them, Come away, Death
has some especially affecting
Nowadays, thanks especially, to the late Richard Hickox as well as other
conductors we have the opportunity to hear the orchestral music of Frank
Bridge, particularly on CD. His solo songs have also been quite well served
on disc but his part-songs are less easy to encounter and the three selected
by Nigel Short were, like the Murrill pieces, songs which I believe I've not
heard previously. All three are well worth getting to know. Music When
Soft Voices Die
is gorgeous and tender while The Bee
pell-mell scherzo, full of vitality.
We come onto much more familiar territory with VW's masterly Three
. Nigel Short and his singers are wonderfully
responsive to the mysteriousness of Full Fathom Five
incomparable, gravely beautiful chord sequences in The Cloud-Capp'd
are perfectly weighted and blended. These are superb songs and
here they're marvellously done.
It's good to hear all four of Elgar's Op. 53 part-songs because not all of
them are as familiar as There is Sweet Music
. Even in a small scale
piece such as this Elgar's use of two keys - one for the ladies' voices, one
for the gentlemen - shows his ambition and restless curiosity. There's
harmonic adventure too in Deep in My Soul
. I infer from the notes
that O Wild. West Wind
was a test piece for the 1909 Morecambe
Festival. If that's so then the competing choirs must have been very
accomplished for it's a complex offering. Here it receives the
necessary virtuoso performance. Ambitious though the other three Op. 53
songs are, the palm has to go to Owls
. The words are by Elgar
himself and both the text and the music are strange and unsettling. I know
of nothing like this piece in all Elgar.
I am delighted that Stanford's peerless The Blue Bird
place in this company for it is one of my very favourite English part-songs.
It's prefaced by Judith Bingham's The Drowned Lovers
. The piece is
designed to complement the Stanford and does so excellently. There are
thematic allusions to The Blue Bird
and, just as importantly, the
ambience of Stanford's miniature masterpiece is evoked. The Blue
is given a magical, poised performance, one of the best I can
recall hearing. On Time
is a more robust example of Stanford's
choral writing but it's no less finely wrought.
Bob Chilcott's three-movement The Modern Man I Sing
programme in fine style. These are the only pieces in the programme that
don't set British texts - Chilcott turned to Walt Whitman. In The
he makes excellent use of rhythm and of choral devices to
illustrate the athlete in action. The Last Invocation
is a gentle
and very beautiful central panel and the triptych closes with One's-Self
which overflows with rhythmic energy.
This is a discerning and enterprisingly chosen programme. It's superbly
delivered by Tenebrae whose singing is never less than immaculate. Their
performances are spirited too; there's complete engagement with the music.
The recordings were made at the same location but over four separate sets of
sessions and with a number of engineers and producers involved but the sonic
results are very consistent - and very good. Greg Murray's notes are
succinct and perceptive.
Previous review: Simon Thompson
(Recording of the Month)