A New Song
Thomas Trotter (organ)
Choir of St. Margaret’s, Westminster/Aidan Oliver
rec. 7-9 March 2019, St. John the Evangelist Church, Islington, London
PRIORY PRCD1239 [65:15]
The disc’s title appears in two pieces: Thomas Tomkins’s setting of words from psalm 149 O sing unto the Lord a new song and James Macmillan’s now quite famous 1997 setting of verses of Psalm 96. Not all music here is new. From the late Renaissance, we have English composers Byrd, Tomkins, Weelkes, Philips and Gibbons. This is standard fare, one might say, heard at Cathedral Evensongs up and down the land. The remaining pieces are contemporary, and some of them are very fine works, very much associated with this choir.
The programme was recorded almost three years ago but the disc was only released the past November. Conductor Aidan Oliver’s booklet essay, full of useful detail, tells us that the disc represents the choir at its peak just before the Covid outbreak “which sadly precipitated a scaling back of regular services and choral activity at St.Margaret’s”. The church, rebuilt in the late 15th century on an ancient site, is often known as ‘the parish church of the House of Commons’.
Let me first say that this is a very fine choir of mixed female and male voices. They can be powerful, as in the extraordinary full-bloodied ending of Francis Grier’s Christ’s Love Song. They can also be delicate and sensitive, as in O crux splendidior, Peter Philips’s motet for Holy Cross day with its poised and expressive Alleluias. Consider, too, Bob Chilcott’s succinct Even such a time; it sets a text by Sir Walter Raleigh, who was buried under the altar of St. Margaret’s in 1618.
This leads us to other works, some of them with a particular connection to the choir or its musical directors. Alistair Putt with his impressive take on the Christmas text O magnum mysterium and Gareth Treseder with another charming Christmas setting of Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, are both listed as choir members. Julian Anderson’s impassioned My beloved spake was composed for a wedding of two members of the London Philharmonic Chorus. Matthew Martin’s moving setting of Vidi aquam was written for the baptism at St.Margaret’s of the son of Robert Quinney, the sub-organist at nearby Westminster Abbey.
This fine choir tackles a major choral work to end this memorable prigramme: Nicholas Maw’s One foot in Eden still, I stand. This is a setting by Edwin Muir, commissioned by King’s College Cambridge in 1990, the alma mater, as it happens, of both the conductor and organist on this recording.
Aidan Oliver discusses each work in the booklet, and all texts are clearly given. There is a photo of the choir. The recording is both immediate and spacious. Even if you normally only buy choral music recorded by Cathedral choirs or Oxbridge colleges, think again. There is some exceptional singing to be enjoyed here.
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656)
O Sing unto the Lord a new song [3:24]
Francis GRIER (b. 1955)
Christ’s Love Song [2:33]
Julian ANDERSON (b. 1967)
My beloved spake [4:51]
William BYRD (c.1543-1623)
Sing Joyfully [2:38]
Bob CHILCOTT (b. 1955)
Even such is time [2:23]
Peter PHILIPS ((1560/1561-1625)
O crux splendidior [6:00]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)
O Clap your hands together [5:04)
Roxanna PANUFNIK (b. 1968)
O hearken [2:08]
Gareth TRESEDER (b. 1985)
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day [3:48]
Alastair PUTT (b. 1983)
O magnum mysterium [4:23]
James MACMILLAN (b. 1959)
A New Song [6:10]
Matthew MARTIN (b. 1976)
Vidi aquam [2:57]
Thomas WEELKES (c.1575-1623)
Gloria in excelsis Deo [3:04]
Jonathan DOVE (b. 1959)
Seek him that maketh the seven stars [6:49]
Nicolas MAW (1935-2009)
One foot in Eden still, I stand [7:30]