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A Rose Magnificat
Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh
rec. 2017, Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, UK
Texts & English translations included

Paul McCreesh’s recording projects for Signum with his Gabrieli Consort are reasons to get excited. I’ve really enjoyed his large scale projects, like Elijah or The Seasons, but these single-disc sets are, if anything, even more exciting because they tend to revolve around a concept or idea that is in some way special to McCreesh. They’re always intelligently programmed, and you can take it for granted that they'll be brilliantly sung.

So it is with this one, a disc of Marian motets. At first that might not seem like an exciting prospect, but as usual he has a USP. His settings are all English (except that of the Scot James MacMillan), and they’re all written either before 1558 or after 1915. That leaves out a huge chunk of mainstream repertoire, but it draws links between the earliest examples of polyphony and the music of the twentieth century. McCreesh sees one as a great influence on the other and, if that’s not always extremely apparent here, then it’s undeniably the case that the juxtapositions throw up links.

Take the three settings of Ave Maris Stella, for example. MacMillan’s use of harmony is unmistakably 21st century, and there is a spine-tingling beauty to the way they are sung here, but he writes in blocks with monosyllabic lines that hark back to Tallis’ music for Edward VI. Juxtaposing him with Shepard draws out the harmonic contrasts but also the passion for textural clarity that, if anything, MacMillan gets better than his predecessor. Moving then into Owain Park’s setting, we get similarly clear word-setting, but there is a more rhapsodic soprano line that recalls the influence of the Renaissance. It makes for a lovely triptych, and it’s something that, to some degree or other, is replicated across the disc.

The Salve Reginas are even more contrasting. Robert Wylkynson’s setting echoes the polychoral splendour of Gabrieli. It sounds thrilling, magnificence intermingling with intimacy, rendering all the grandeur of the period in the most effective sound. It’s extended and elaborate, while Howells’ setting is much more condensed and economical. The harmonies are densely packed but, like much of the composer’s music, it feels deeply personal and full of emotion.

Elsewhere the comparisons are less obvious but always beautifully sung. Tallis’ Videte miraculum is sung with block-like precision, and Robert White’s Magnificat has the lightness of Gothic tracery, the lines interweaving with ease and unarguable rightness. In the contemporary field, Leighton’s Of a rose carries a wonderful contrast between the contemplative and the lively, while Warlock’s As Dew in Aprylle is a very appealing folksiness to it, and Jonathan Lane’s There is No Rose is beautifully simple.

The disc culminates in a work that McCreesh commissioned, Matthew Martin’s Rose Magnificat, so called because it intersperses the Latin words of the Magnificat with the text of There is No Rose. To my ears he treats it musically as one text rather than two, so you don’t get a feeling of contrasting parts coming together, though sometimes the flow from one section into another brings a different mood. That’s not a criticism, though. It flows well as a piece, and contains several crunchy chord sequences that lift the music into the realm of drama rather than sentiment.

In short, this is another triumph, helped by the wonderful acoustic of Romsey Abbey, captured with typical skill by the expert engineers of Signum. Presentation is also as good as we have come to expect: a hardback book containing disc, texts and the transcript of a conversation between McCreesh, Martin and Jeremy Summerly.

Simon Thompson
Previous reviews: John Quinn and Brian Wilson

Disc contents
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Of a rose is all my song [5:55]
Thomas TALLIS (c 1505-1585)
Videte miraculum [8:50]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
As dew in Aprylle [1:41]
Robert WHITE (c 1538-1574)
Magnificat [11:57]
James MacMILLAN (b. 1959)
Ave maris stella [4:37]
John SHEPPARD (c 1515 – 1558)
Ave maris stella [5:03]
Owain PARK (b. 1993)
Ave maris stella [4:41]
Robert WYLKYNSON c 1450-1515)
Salve regina [16:17]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Salve regina [5:33]
Jonathan LANE (b. 1958)
There is no rose [2:51]
Matthew MARTIN (b. 1976)
A Rose Magnificat [10:24]


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