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Silence & Music
Robert Murray (tenor)
Neal Davies (baritone)
Tim Roberts (harmonium)
Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh
rec. 2016, Charterhouse School Chapel, Surrey
Texts included SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD490 [67:42]
This lovely disc sees Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort launching into the territory of the secular English part-song. It’s at the opposite end of the scale to their titanic recordings of Elijah or the Grande Messe des Morts, but it’s every bit as successful and very cherishable.
The key to its success is the gorgeous attention to detail which draws the most exquisite sounds from the choir. They begin high with a performance of Stanford’s Blue Bird that is intoxicatingly beautiful, showcasing their phenomenal blend, and also pointing up perfectly the welcoming acoustic of the chapel of Charterhouse. The soprano line is sung by five ladies of the chorus, rather than the more usual soloist, which is different and much more difficult, but it gives the song a new balance and sense of harmony that is utterly delectable.
Elgar’s Sweet Music can seldom have sounded as sweet as here. Vaughan Williams’ Silence and Music is alluring and sensual. In addition to the sentiments of the text, you can sense the composer’s love for Ursula as he responds to her poetry. His other folk songs are more four-square, but they’re treated very seriously and, therefore, sound wonderful, climaxing in a lovely Turtle Dove, the only one of the three that involves women’s voices.
Howells’ The summer is coming is a delightful discovery. Who would have thought that his lush, peculiarly English harmonies could apply so successfully to a depiction of Ireland, or that he would have such an affinity for the poetry of Bryan Guinness? The choir seem to appreciate that they’ve hit upon something quite special here, so much do they revel in both the vowels and the lush harmonies.
Grainger’s Brigg Fair is suffused with a gorgeous sense of melancholy, while The Three Ravens sounds typically idiosyncratic with its doleful male vocal line and its harmonium accompaniment. James Macmillan’s setting of Robert Burns’ Gallant Weaver gave me the tingles right from the off, with its gorgeous divided ladies’ lines and the low basses tolling beneath. The booklet describes this song as “MacMillan at his most approachable”, and they have a point.
Dove’s Cock Robin is a dazzling piece of virtuoso choral writing. He turns the little rhyme into a tour-de-force of genuine substance, and the choir love responding to his kaleidoscopic changes of mood and texture. Britten’s Evening Primrose, McCreesh’s favourite of the Flower Songs, sounds marvellous with its hanging suspensions and hemiolas which resolve magically. Warlock’s All the Flowers of Spring gets right inside Webster’s words and, like the poem, treads the thin line between eroticism and death. Finally, RVW’s Rest is a beautiful, almost spiritual way to end the disc. It’s a piece McCreesh defends in the booklet, and you can hear why.
Some may well be surprised at this group turning to such repertoire, and even more surprised that they do it so well. Surprised or otherwise, this disc is a triumph, and it even gives Tenebrae’s Music of the Spheres a run for its money. That is a a disc of similar repertoire that I made a Recording of the Month so, for me, that’s high praise.
Contents Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
The Blue Bird (1910) [3:53] Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
There is sweet music (1907) [4:42] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Silence and music (1953) [5:18] Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
The Summer is Coming (1965) [7:34] Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Brigg Fair (1906/1911) [2:59] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
Bushes and Briars (1908) [2:10]
The winter is gone (1912) [1:41]
The Turtle Dove (1924) [2:58] Sir James MACMILLAN (b. 1959)
The Gallant Weaver (1995) [6:11] Jonathan DOVE (b. 1959)
Who killed Cock Robin? (1995) [8:15] Percy GRAINGER
The Three Ravens (1902/1949) [4:30] Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
The Evening Primrose (1950) [3:11] Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
All the flowers of Spring (1923) [6:25] Sir Edward ELGAR
Owls (An Epitaph) (1907) [3:38] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
Rest (1902) [4:15]