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For (a) the Stabat Mater, (b) On Angel's Wing, and finally (c) Lonely Hearts, the composer's regular interpreter conductor George Vass has called on the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir (a and b), St Catherine Singers, Haberdashers' Askes' Girls School (a and c), South Hampstead High School Singers (b and c) plus guest instrumentalists (b and c) and his own Orchestra Nova (a,b and c). Together with baritone Eamonn Dougan (a and b), soprano Charlotte Mobbs (b) and soprano Clare Porter (in Annunciation) these forces present the music with clarity and conviction.

Three Latin Motets (a capella) are from Anglo Saxon Marian texts (circa 1500 AD); the first, Ave Regina, for full choir, is a gentle and lyrical response to the 'Queen of the heavens ... from whom the light came into the world.' In fifty five bars McDowall's sparing Ave Regina is truly trenchant, so too is its scope; with the highlighting of key words glowingly effective [listen -- track 9, 0:01-0:43]. The Ave Maria, written for upper voices, has a 'sotto voce' character and a plainchant-like start while a concluding Regina caeli is more vigorous -- and punctuated with 'Alleluias'. These Latin motets were commissioned for the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir by Janet and Douglas Mackay -- in memory of their parents; and first performed 4 April 2004.

Peter Broadbent, current Course Director for the Association of British Choral Directors, leads his Joyful Company of Singers (now pursuing a hectic 20th anniversary year) in exemplary accounts of the three unaccompanied motets, the following Vesper hymn, and Annunciation (tracks 9-13 inclusive).

The Vesper hymn, Deus, qui claro lumine [listen -- track 12, 0:01-0:56], is by turns contemplative and ecstatic. It's text derives from Liturgia Horarum (Roman Catholic 'Liturgy of the Hours' ; the four-volume breviary containing the official prayer of the 'canonical hours' by which a day is consecrated to God). The beginning unfolds around a single note, extends upwards to the high solo soprano entry while an ebbing dusk is suggested by the downward shift of tonality. The work closes with the gradual descent of the soprano solo over the gently repeated Amens. Commissioned by Yoxford Festival, it was premièred (2005) in Yoxford Church by the Choir of New College Oxford conducted by Edward Higginbottom.

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Copyright © 9 March 2008 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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