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A Rewarding Experience

Music from
The Phoenix Chorale

Chandos    CHSA 5066

Spotless Rose - Hymns to the Virgin Mary. © 2008 Chandos Records Ltd

The most substantial work in this recital devoted to the praise of the Virgin Mary is the première recording of Jean Belmont Ford's Electra, a four movement cantata which draws on an effective sequence of texts and an appealing exploitation of the choral forces. Kansas based composer Belmont Ford will be seventy next year and has enjoyed notable success particularly with her choral works, spirited, harmonically interesting and dramatic -- even if in a rather guarded way.

This twenty-minute work, which has an ominous bass drum and a timpani making occasional appearances, devotes its first movement, De profundis, to the male voices, and a setting of the hymn Asperges me, Domine, rising to Mary's ecstatic pronouncement of the Creed, for the women's voices as a companion second movement. Ave, dulcissima Maria follows, a contemplative setting

Listen -- Jean Belmont Ford: Ave, dulcissima Maria
(track 14, 0:00-0:58) © 2008 Chandos Records Ltd

with a more lively central section. The finale is a setting of the Magnificat, with an extrovert prologue for a solo soprano after which the chorus join the praises.

Listen -- Jean Belmont Ford: Magnificat anima mea
(track 15, 8:32-9:50) © 2008 Chandos Records Ltd

Electra was originally written for the Kansas City Chorale which gave its first performance in 1995, and although it is difficult to discover much about the composer, there is clearly a worthy commitment by choral groups to devote care to performances of her work.

The Phoenix Chorale (formerly the Phoenix Bach Choir) is one such highly committed group of fine singers, guided by an enterprising conductor in Charles Bruffy. The performances on this CD are a rewarding experience. Britten's Hymn to the Virgin and Splendid Jewel by Stephen Paulus -- a setting of a fourteenth century carol -- are sensitive and well balanced.

There are three very short Motets by Healey Willan (1880-1968) and Two Marian Pieces by the Basque composer Javier Busto, known best for his choral music and the plaintive haunting effects he conjures from groups of singers.

Listen -- Javier Busto: Ave, maris stella
(track 7, 3:11-4:34) © 2008 Chandos Records Ltd

There is also an impressive performance of Cecilia McDowall's Three Latin Motets, highly effective and rewarding choral writing from this well experienced hand. These were written in 2004.

Listen -- Cecilia McDowall: Ave, Regina
(track 3, 2:33-3:34) © 2008 Chandos Records Ltd

The CD title is taken from the carol-anthem by Herbert Howells, also featured in this enjoyable collection.

Copyright © 6 December 2008 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews