January 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

John CAMERON (b.1944) Missa Celtica (With texts from 6th to 11th Century Ireland and Wales; 16th to 19th century Scotland, Brittany and Cornwall, and the Ordinary of the Mass. Original adaptations and lyrics: John Cameron) Máire Ni Chathasaigh (folk singer and Irish harp); Lindsay Wagstaff (soprano); Emmanuel Lawler (Gaelic tenor); John Bowley (Latin tenor); Michael McGoldrich (uillean pipes) The Choir of New College Oxford and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer   ERATO 3984-25494-2 [66:20]

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Blest be the man from the island of Colum Cille

Bringing the word to the lands in the east

I enjoyed this music immensely; in fact I would go so far as to say that this is my British Music (or, perhaps, I should say Irish) CD of the year. John Cameron has written a glorious, melodic, accessible and often deeply moving celebration of the passing back of the word of Christianity, during the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, back from the havens of learning that were the abbeys of Ireland, isolated on the north-west tip of Europe. Missa Celtica is the story of the lives and journeys of the Celtic Saints in the 6th and 7th centuries, in particular Collumcille to Iona and Scotland, Aiden to Lindisfarne and Northumbria, and Columbanus and Gallus to Luxeuil, Lake Constance and Lombardy.

John Cameron read History and Music at Corpus Christi College Cambridge. He has had many successes in many fields: Jazz, Pop and film and television work (including writing over 40 film scores including: Kes, A Touch off Class and Black Beauty). His work on José Carreras’ ‘Passion’ (where he was executive music director and principal arranger) led him eventually back to Cambridge and the comparative calm of New College, working with the Choir on their ‘Agnus Dei I and II’ and ‘Early One Morning’ albums. In Missa Celtica he has attempted to unify all his many different musical languages. He blends a cappella choral singing in the Ordinary of the Mass: the Kyrie, Gloria, and Sancti Veniti, with Irish and Scots Celtic themes. His choral music is a blending of his 20th-century style with the free psalmodic/organum tradition of early ecclesiastical themes.

Missa Celtica begins with solo uillean pipes. The pipes’ theme is developed by the Choir in the Kyrie and the Irish harp intersperses sparkling, brightly flowing figures suggesting the beauty of Erin. A strident and forceful battle hymn on the orchestra based on strongly rhythmic figures, follows. The Gaelic tenor soloist (Emmanuel Lawler) sings gently and eloquently, the beautiful and moving ‘Hermit Song’ -- ‘I wish…for a tiny hut in the wilderness… a lark to sing me the risen sun…And Twelve good men who are sound and true To help me to sing to the Lord.’ Dramatic and turbulent music then follows depicting ‘Colum’s Voyage.’

I could go on to describe all 22 tracks on this CD but I think from what I have written thus far you will have a very good impression of this work. I will therefore just mention two or three movements that particularly impressed me. Of the a capella movements the Gloria is a radiant creation and it is repeated as a joyful almost secular celebration with orchestra. ‘Bridget’s Descent’ (sung warmly with nice articulation by Lindsay Wagstaff) is a lovely hymn for voice and violin praying for the Lord’s protection, while ‘Let Us Sing Every Day’ with pipes and drums prominent is again joyful and strongly rhythmic. ‘Collum Cille’s Elegy’, with its high sustained chords, quiet violin and harp accompaniment to Lawler’s rapt delivery is deeply moving. So, too, is the following ‘Sanctus/Benedictus Lindisfarne’ with the Choir singing a most beautiful setting of the Sanctus followed by a lilting Gaelic rendition of Aiden’s calling to Lindisfarne from which I have taken the quotation at the head of this review. This movement is a glorious highlight of the work. Finally, I would mention the radiant ensemble, the closing blessings of ‘Pax Deit’ that closes this remarkable work.

The singing of soloists, and the New College Choir and the playing of the English Orchestra are practically beyond reproach. Outstanding; a work to marvel at from beginning to end.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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