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All Things are Quite Silent
The Pembroke College Girls’ Choir
The Chapel Choir of Pembroke College, Cambridge/Anna Lapwood
rec. 2019, St Georges Church, Chesterton, Cambridge, UK.
Texts and translations included SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD642 [56:46]
Anna Lapwood was appointed Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 2016 when she was just 21. In the intervening years she has acquired an increasingly high profile, not just for her work at the college but also as a broadcaster on both radio and TV. Pembroke College’s Chapel Choir consists of 26 singers (7/6/6/7). An important element in the expansion of the college’s musical activities has been the establishment in 2018 of the 18-strong Pembroke College Girls’ Choir, the members of which are aged between 11 and 18. They join forces with the Chapel Choir on 11 of the tracks. This is the debut commercial recording for both choirs.
In her notes, Anna Lapwood tells us that she has developed a conscious policy of including, whenever possible, a piece by a female composer in every service that the Pembroke College choir sings. The present programme contains music by 15 composers in all, 11 of whom are female, but it seems that gender hasn’t been the driving force behind the selection of the programme; rather, it includes pieces that are among the choirs’ favourites
As the title of the album might suggest, the music on this disc is mainly contemplative in nature. The music has been discerningly chosen and makes a satisfying programme in its own right. I fully understand the rationale of the programme but would like to hear this choir in some livelier music as well.
Thank goodness Ms Lapwood didn’t overlook male composers in her programme selection because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the performance of Mathew Martin’s Iustorum Animae, a piece which I don’t think I’ve heard before. It commemorates a friend who took his own life after receiving a terminal diagnosis. Martin chose wonderful words and has set them to music that is eloquent, not least because it’s restrained and dignified in tone. The Chapel Choir sings it really well. They’re equally successful in Jonathan Dove’s lovely Into Thy Hands, giving a polished performance. Tavener’s Mother of God is a simple, rapt piece which here receives a dedicated performance.
I was intrigued by Kerry Andrews’ arrangement of All Things Are Quite Silent in which the vocal parts that are not singing the melody vocalise in ways that suggest sounds associated with the sea, including the noises made by the wind and by sea birds; it’s most effective. Elizabeth Poston’s Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, here taken slightly slower than I’m accustomed to hearing it – though none the worse for that – is well-known. Less familiar, but most welcome, is her arrangement of The Water of Tyne. It’s not an elaborate setting but it makes a good effect. The setting is for female voices and here the singing is fresh and clear, the aural equivalent of pure water.
I liked Anna Lapwood’s own setting of O Nata Lux. Sally Beamish’s In the Stillness is rather more straightforward than some of her pieces that I’ve heard and admired. It’s a setting of a Christmas poem by Katrina Shepherd which depicts the ‘hushed rapture of a small parish church in a snowbound landscape’. Beamish’s music captures the essence of the text to perfection in a disarming homophonic setting which made an immediate impression on me. There’s lovely harmonic invention to admire in Kerensa Briggs’ Media Vita. I was glad to find Imogen Holst’s Agnus Dei had been included. It’s from her Mass in A minor (1927). If you appreciate this excellent performance, I hope it will encourage you to seek out the recording of the complete Mass (review).
Anna Lapwood tells us that her singers have become particularly enamoured of the music of Eleanor Daley, who is represented by two pieces. Grandmother Moon is a setting for upper voices of an evocative text by Mary Louise Martin who is, I think, a Canadian First Nation poet. The piece is lovely and it’s tenderly sung. Upon Your Heart has become a particular favourite of the Pembroke singers in recent years; it’s always included in the last service that the choir sings each year before graduation. The special place this music occupies in the choirs’ hearts comes across in their performance of this most attractive piece.
I enjoyed this disc very much. Anna Lapwood has clearly trained her choirs expertly and in these performances, they are very responsive to her direction. The choral sound is fresh, light and clear. The singing is accomplished and the diction clear. As I said, I’d like to hear this choir in some livelier music as well but this is a most auspicious recording debut.
The production side of this disc was in the expert hands of Adrian Peacock (producer) and David Hinitt (engineer). They have captured the sound of the choirs very nicely in what is evidently a pleasing but not excessively resonant acoustic at St Georges Church, Chesterton, Cambridge. The booklet is nicely produced.
I hope there’ll be another opportunity for these choirs to appear on disc before too long.
Contents Trad. arr. Kerry Andrew (b 1978) All Things Are Quite Silent Elizabeth Poston (1905-1987) Jesus Christ the Apple Tree Anna Lapwood O Nata Lux Sally Beamish (b 1956) In the Stillness Jonathan Dove (b 1959) Into Thy Hands Kerensa Briggs (b 1991) Media Vita Caroline Shaw (b 1982) And the Swallow Elizabeth Poston The Water of Tyne Matthew Martin (b 1976) Iustorum Animae Amy Beach (1867-1944) Peace I Leave with You Eleanor Daley (b 1955) Grandmother Moon Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) Ave Maria Eleanor Daley Upon Your Heart Imogen Holst (1907-1984) Agnus Dei Sir John Tavener (1944-2013) Mother of God Josef Rheinberger (1838-1901) Abendlied Laura Mvula (b 1987) Sing to the Moon