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Paul MEALOR (b. 1964) Let all the world in every corner sing (2012) [4:30] The Beatitudes (2013) [5:56] To seek where shadows are (2015) [12:11] Behold a tender babe (2015) [5:00] A spotless rose (2010) [4:54] The Selwyn Service (2017) [6:40] Beneath thy compassion (2017) [3:51] Ave maris stella (2013) [3:35] Jubilate Deo (2015) [3:41] Ave verum corpus (2009) [4:05] Let fall the windows of mine eyes (2008) [7:43] If ye love me (2017) [3:09] All wisdom cometh from the Lord (2013) [4:22] Blessing (2013) [3:57]
Stephen Scarlato (organ, piano)
Floyd Higgins (piano)
rec. 2018, St Patrick-St Anthony and Immanuel Congregational Churches, Hartford, USA SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD613 [73:34]
“Serve Harmony. Evoke its spirit and free yourself from discord.” Voce’s ‘creed’ – this word is employed in the booklet – was penned by their conductor Mark Singleton, and is repeated three times in the course of the same booklet. Thomas Cooke, co-founder and president of the choir, emphasises the point: “when Paul came to work with Voce in 2017, we knew that Voce and Paul Mealor were a perfect pairing. Some things are just meant to be.” Under the circumstances, it would be ungracious to disagree.
Not that Mealor’s music is free from discord. On the contrary, the subtle use of gently bruising discord is a basic element in his harmonic language. The booklet notes say that “great demands are made on the singers”. But the effect of these discords always serves to enhance the beauty of Mealor’s writing, as I observed when I reviewed the première of his third symphony. The music on this CD is cut from the same basic cloth, and much of it is very beautiful indeed. Nor is Mealor afraid to write a memorable tune: we hear several on this disc, including those for In the bleak midwinter [track 5], the central section of the Juibilate Deo [track 12], and the Gaelic Blessing [track 17] which gives its title to the CD. And we have an absolutely gorgeous extended melody in Celtic folk style which graces All wisdom cometh from the Lord [track 16]. There is plenty of contrast too, in the more extrovert music to be found in Let all the world in every corner sing [track 1] or the setting of the Magnificat [track 8] with their rumbustious organ parts.
But there is one problem with this recording. The choir, obviously attempting at all times to present a euphonious sound, tend to blur their words with elongated vowels and supressed consonants. The result is that these words are often close to inaudible without the aid of the texts printed in the booklet. That is true even with the extremely beautiful solo singing of Jennifer McCann in All wisdom cometh from the Lord. The situation is not helped by the distant placement of the singers in the two ecclesiastical acoustics. This tends to smooth out the choral sound even further; it adds to the beauty of that sound, but makes the words even harder to distinguish. At the same time, the organ accompaniment and the piano duet in If ye love me [track 15] are more forwardly placed in the balance. The results are not always convincing, and indeed almost brutal in the Nunc dimittis [track 9]. But since the composer was present at the recording sessions for this “perfect pairing”, that was presumably the sort of approach he actually wanted. I would have appreciated a greater sense of clarity; the words are important, and not just a background to choral meditation. Nevertheless the actual sound of the choir in such gentle pieces as the Ave maris stella [track 11] and the Ave verum corpus [track 13] can justifiably be described as heavenly.
Richard Longman’s booklet notes give us full details of the various commissions which led to these various compositions, but almost no indication when they were written. (The dates in the heading of this review are derived from another disc of Mealor’s music, issued this month on the Gia label, and from other sources.) It does not seem that the composer’s style has changed, if at all, over the years. There is nevertheless plenty of variety in the choral textures to provide a sense of contrast. The notes correctly give details of the various sources of the words, but the printed texts themselves are in error in describing Herbert’s Let all the world as “traditional Biblical text” or the two Latin hymns as “Biblical” (they are not). Translations are provided for the two latter, but otherwise the booklet is entirely in English.
Although I regret the decision of the conductor and the recording engineers to elevate sheer beauty of sound over the meaning of the words, I have to admit that the results are nonetheless heavenly in exactly the right way, and the performances carefully manage to skirt any suggestion of sentimentality. Indeed the speed of delivery of the text in the Magnificat [track 8] almost threatens to outrun the ability of the choir to articulate in passages such as “He hath put down the mighty”; a slightly more measured approach might have yielded greater dividends. Elsewhere the tempi are exactly and precisely judged, and sound ideal. This listener might perhaps have welcomed longer pauses between the individual tracks. There were places where I was unclear when one work had finished and the next had commenced, especially since some tracks ended with long pauses before the final chords. But then maybe we are meant to treat the whole disc as in some ways a continuous series of reflections on various religious texts.
For those who loved Mealor’s Ubi caritas, his best-known work written for the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, this disc will be a welcome addition to their experience. For others coming fresh to the composer’s music, the selection is generous and wide-ranging. Many of the tracks here appear to be first recordings – although I suspect that we will hear more of such works as All wisdom cometh from the Lord, the Jubilate Deo and Blessing. But I suspect also that this disc is not the final recorded word to be said on many of the items here.