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Impressive Singing

Vocal and choral music
by Cecilia McDowall -
heard by

'... attractive, lyrical and sometimes forceful ...'

Cecilia McDowall: Laudate; Radnor Songs; A Canterbury Mass; Five Seasons, and other works. © 2009 Dutton Epoch

The cantata Five Seasons was written in 2006 in celebration of the organic landscape -- a commission endorsed by the Soil Association and funded by Respect Organics. A sequence of poems by Christie Dickason was a product of a series of visits that she and the composer made to various farms in which they could gain different views of the organic process, and bring their joint creative ideas to workshops held with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta Choir who first performed the piece. From these endeavours came the attractive, lyrical and sometimes forceful cantata, the original string quartet accompaniment for which has been expanded to string orchestra for this recording.

The moods of the cycle change with the seasons, and at the heart of the piece are an Introit ('Grace before meat', the paradox of caring for and killing livestock) and Dies Irae ('The Darkening', the hidden consequences of man's mismanagement and greed). Musically the oboe and harp are neatly woven into the textures, though the fine words are not always clear -- 'Hungry clouds eat away the hills ...'

Listen -- Sheep in the Mist (Five Seasons)
(track 21, 0:00-1:28) © 2009 Dutton Epoch

Despite its position in the titling, Five Seasons is the most substantial piece on this McDowall CD.

The opening Laudate, three movements for mezzo-soprano, chorus and chamber orchestra, is a more recent piece (2008), opening with bright brass fanfares and ending with cries of Lauda! It is somewhat marred by mezzo-soprano soloist Katherine Allen's enthusiastic vibrato.

Rachel Nicholls, who is the soprano in the cycle Radnor Songs, produces a far more pleasing tone for these poems by Simon Mundy originally composed in 2005 for voice and piano and orchestrated for this recording. These six songs are about the history of the old county town of the Welsh borders, occasionally catching in their more recitative than aria style a hint of the openness of a Britten and Copland.

Listen -- Radnor (New) (Radnor Songs)
(track 10, 0:00-0:45) © 2009 Dutton Epoch

There are also two short and well crafted unaccompanied choral pieces: an anthem on two lines attributed to Saint Francis -- 'I have done what is mine to do ...'

Listen -- I have done what is mine to do
(track 4, 1:13-1:55) © 2009 Dutton Epoch

and a traditionally bouncing Christmas carol 'Now may we singen'.

Listen -- Now may we singen
(track 5, 0:00-0:40) © 2009 Dutton Epoch

It is certainly a recording that highlights the impressive singing of the Canterbury Chamber Choir.

Copyright © 8 December 2009 Patric Standford,
Wakefield UK









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