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
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 Colums 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.
Bridgets Descent (sung warmly with nice articulation by
Lindsay Wagstaff) is a lovely hymn for voice and violin praying for the
Lords protection, while Let Us Sing Every Day with pipes
and drums prominent is again joyful and strongly rhythmic. Collum
Cilles Elegy, with its high sustained chords, quiet violin and
harp accompaniment to Lawlers 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 Aidens 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.