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BASIL RAMSEY listens to choirs from both cities

Sacred music from St Mary Magdalen, Oxford. Copyright (c) 1999 Trustees of St Mary Magdalen, OxfordTwo small groups of choral singers combine for the first recording: Voces Sacrae, a nine-voice professional ensemble based in London, and the eight-voice choir of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford. The tonal quality is excellent and the seventeen singers coalesce to good effect.

The programme links with the chapel repertory at St Mary Magdalen, ranging from Byrd, Phillips [click to listen] and Schütz, to Matthias, Rutter and W.S.Lloyd Webber. The last-named, whose reputation is partially under the shadow of his son Andrew, regularly wrote church music, some of it including this late setting of the Mass with a solid foundation of respectability and no diversions from the beaten path. Even so, neat touches do suddenly occur, may be in harmonic 'lifts', unusual texture, or the delayed organ entry in the Gloria adding unexpected drama.

A fair representation of the 20th century is found in the programme: not anything too adventurous. On the whole, listeners to sacred choral music are not expecting their ears to be pulled out of shape. But the popular choral composers of today - John Rutter and Bob Chilcott amongst them - are displayed here with pieces that have much subtlety in shaping both musical language and texture. Chilcott's setting of the well-known words God so loved the world is far removed from Stainer. Rutter in yet another carol uses 15th century words by John Audelay for a most graceful tune [click to listen] surrounded with suitable ornamentation.

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Copyright © Basil Ramsey, November 26th 1999


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St Mary Magdalen Oxford           Clare College Cambridge

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