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For lo, I raise up

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)


Stanford sets this colourful text in typically rumbustious style, with a flamboyant organ part and vigorous choral writing. Two solos are featured; the double-entendre in the soprano solo has been a source of amusement to many Choristers down the years.



Summer in winter

Bryan Kelly (born 1934)


Bryan Kelly set Crashaw’s poem Summer in Winter in 2010 and very generously dedicated it to myself and the Choir of Durham Cathedral. As Christ’s coming to earth showed us Eternity shut in a span, so does Crashaw’s poem succeed in encapsulating the concept of the Incarnation in wonderfully few words. Kelly’s lilting music, alternating between C minor and C major, illuminates and enhances the text in a gentle yet resplendent manner; this is a setting which deserves to become well established in the Christmas repertoire.



Kindle a light to lighten the darkness

Michael Fleming (1928-2006)


Here is another carol from the current century which is deservedly reaching a wider audience. Michael Fleming died in 2006 - the year this work was published - after a career which included organistships at All Saints’, Margaret Street and St. Alban’s, Holborn, as well as work at the Royal School of Church Music, where he was a much-loved teacher held in great esteem by his many pupils. His gentle yet expressive music sets words by Michael Forster which prick our consciences and remind us of our priorities - and of Christ’s.



Missa Dunelmi

James MacMillan (born 1959)


Missa Dunelmi was commissioned by Durham Cathedral, with the support of the Friends of Durham Cathedral and Durham Cathedral Choir Association, and by Durham University Department of Music and its concert series Musicon. James MacMillan composed it in 2010 and it received its first performance at Sung Eucharist in the Cathedral on 27 February 2011. Set for eight-part choir a cappella, it combines some challenging writing with some transcendent effects; complex and simple by turn, it has immediately established itself as a significant work, one which has yielded more fruit with each successive performance.



O gladsome light

Harold Darke (1888-1976)


Harold Darke sets Robert Bridges’ sublime translation of the ancient Greek hymn Phos hilaron - a translation he made for the Yattendon Hymnal - to music which ranks among the best. Spanning a wide range (the voice parts encompass more than three octaves) and in the central section moving with assurance through a series of foreign keys, this is an anthem which never grows stale.



Cana’s Guest

Richard Allain (born 1965)


Composed in 2007, Richard Allain’s luminous, atmospheric setting of his brother’s words (inspired by the miracle at Cana) makes its effect through a steady, solemn crescendo combined with a gradual expansion of tessitura as the upper voices enter in turn, the pedal bass line gradually descending at the same time. The key mutates slowly but surely from B major to F major, the pace quickening at the climatic moment ‘with love’. Association of text (and its inspired handling) and assurance of composition combine to make this a powerful, memorable work, despite its brevity.



Lulla, lulla, lullaby

Margaret Simper (born 1966)


A former music student of Durham University, Margaret Simper has continued her association with the Cathedral as mother of a current boy Chorister. She writes: This carol was written for the choir of St Bees School, Cumbria, for their 2010 Christmas Carol Service in St Bees Priory. The text is from an anonymous 16th-century lute song, known as the Lute-book Lullaby, published in William Ballet’s Lute Book of c. 1600. The carol captures the conflicting emotions of the Virgin Mary while holding the baby Jesus on her knee; from the simple opening soprano melody line to the anguished cry, on th e final lullabies, which points toward the fulfilment of God’s purpose and Mary at the foot of the cross.



Panis angelicus

César Franck (1822-1890)


As with many of Franck’s compositions, this piece may well have started life as an organ improvisation. Published in many different forms and arrangements over the years, it is here sung by soprano voices only, the theme being heard in canon in the second half. Thomas Aquinas’ hymn (from which the text is taken) is relevant to the feast of Corpus Christi; this verse is often used separately. Franck originally published the piece as part of his Mass for three voices, Opus 12.



Organ solo: Te Deum, Opus 11

Jeanna Demessieux (1921-1968)                                                                                                                                                         played by Francesca Massey


Jeanne Demessieux was a student of the Paris Conservatoire and and acclaimed pupil of Marcel Dupré. She held the posts of Titular Organist at the Church of Saint-Esprit, before moving to La Madleine, and also taught at the Conservatoires of Nancy and Liège. Demessieux had a brilliant international career as a recitalist, being one of a handful of European organists to tour America during the mid-twentieth century, and was particularly revered for her improvisations, her virtuosity and her extraordinary pedal technique (all the more astonishing given her very high heels!). She was also renowned for having memorized the entire organ works of Bach, Franck, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Handel and Dupré; leaving behind all of her scores in France whilst touring abroad.


The Te Deum was written in 1965. The form is loosely that of a set of variations based on the Te Deum plainchant. Demessieux was said to play with a wonderful sense of rhythmic vitality, and this rhythmic drive infuses the work through a series of ostinati and staccato pedal notes, which underpin the crisply-articulated textures above. Her characteristic, often dissonant harmonies help to build tension and propel the work onwards towards its resplendent and joyful conclusion.


Note by Francesca Massey



Hail, gladdening light

Charles Wood (1866-1926)


John Keble’s translation of Phos hilaron is probably better known than Robert Bridges’ (heard earlier); of the several musical settings of it, Charles Wood’s is probably pre-eminent. As in Darke’s O gladsome light, the third verse recapitulates the music of the first while taking it beyond its former boundaries. The piece is written for double choir, incorporating both Decani/Cantoris and lower-voice/upper-voice antiphony.



Advent Anthem

Michael Berkley (born 1948)


Michael Berkeley writes: Advent Anthem is a setting of the poem, Advent Calendar, by Rowan Williams. It was commissioned by Justin Welby, then Dean of Liverpool, to celebrate the 80th birthday of his mother, Jane. The first performance took place in Liverpool Cathedral as part of the Advent service on 28 November 2010, when the Cathedral Choir was conducted by David Poulter. It was subsequently sung at Durham Cathedral on the occasion of Justin Welby’s Enthronement as Bishop of Durham on 26 November 2011 (the eve of Advent) with the performers on this CD as well as the Boy Choristers of the Cathedral Choir.


The musical possibilities that the text suggested to me as the poem moves through the season were potent: reverential yearning and the main ascending melody at the thought that He will come, growing frenetic activity as November wind flays the trees, the chill frost under Star-snowed fields of sky - a line I repeat several times so that the words may truly reverberate and register; and finally sheer wonderment as He will come like child.


There is, for me, in this poem a terrible beauty so that when we come to the word beauty, it is uttered not so much as a thing of delicacy but as something of awesome power. Similarly the arrival if the child is at once both tender and overwhelming. The music subsides to where it began but informed now by a sense of gratitude and resolution.



Quid retribuam Domino?

Guy de Lioncourt (1885-1961)


Sarah Dover and Louise Gerth soloists


Guy de Lioncourt studied at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, later becoming its director of counterpoint. His work (much of it sacred and choral) is little known in this country, but this delightful miniature has nevertheless found a place on cathedral music-lists.



My soul, there is a country

Hubert Parry (1848-1918)


This work is one of Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell, swansongs composed during the First World War. The metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan himself knew the influence of war, having served on the Royalist side in the English Civil War. Both words and music look beyond war and indeed beyond this world; it is the colour, the expressiveness and the transcendence of both words and music, and the quality of the marriage of the two, which have made this work so valued.




Programme notes by Michael Berkeley, Margaret Simper,

Francesca Massey and James Lancelot

Missa Dunelmi.mp3

Missa Dunelmi & other European Choral Works

PRCD 1078

£10.-

Click the cover to the left to hear a sample of the CD

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To the next CD

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)

For lo, I raise up

Bryan Kelly (born 1934)

Summer in winter

Michael Fleming (1928-2006)

Kindle a light to lighten the darkness

James MacMillian (born 1959)

Missa Dunelmi (World Première Recording)

Kyrie


Gloria


Sanctus and Benedictus


Agnus Dei

Harold Darke (1888-1976)

O gladsome light

Richard Allain (born 1965)

Cana’s Guest

Margaret Simper (born 1966)

Lulla, lulla, lullaby

César Franck (1822-1890)

Panis angelicus

Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968)

Organ solo: Te Deum, Opus II

Charles Wood (1866-1926)

Hail, gladdening light

Michael Berkeley (born 1948)

Advent Anthem

Guy de Lioncourt (1855-1961)

Quid retribuam Domino?

Hubert Parry (1848-1918)

My soul, there is a country

INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW - March 2013:


James MacMillan gets star billing on the booklet cover, although his Missa Dunelmi, his sole contribution to this CD, takes only a little over 18 minutes to perform. Never mind – it is a gorgeous work, and if it were the only music on this CD, I’d still be likely to pay full price for it. As one expects from this composer, Missa Dunelmi is of visionary intensity – very much of the present time, yet, in its ecstatic and almost relentlessly overlapping polyphony, an echo of the English renaissance tradition. This is its first recording. No surprise there, as it was commissioned by Durham Cathedral, and first performed there on February 27th, 2011, less than a year before this CD was recorded. Missa Dunelmi is set for eight-part choir a cappella and is in four movements. (MacMillan conflates the ‘Sanctus’ and ‘Benedictus’.) If the remainder of the programme on this Priory CD is too unlike it for you – perhaps your interest lies primarily in contemporary music – you might want to wait for a forthcoming disc by the Glasgow-based ensemble Cappella Nova. Recorded last November for Linn Records, that disc will contain the Missa Dunelmi (with the composer conducting) as well as other works by MacMillan and John Taverner. Having said that, I’m eager to compare the two recordings, as the Choir of Durham Cathedral is an ensemble of girls and men; the booklet lists 29 names. Cappella Nova is an award-winning group comprising adult women and men and is less than half the size of the Durham Cathedral Choir. Stay tuned!


There is something interesting buried in the booklet’s biography of the choir. It has been in existence for about six centuries, but in 2008 ‘the decision was taken to inaugurate a team of girl Choristers to sing alongside the boy Choristers’. This is its first recording. Having played this disc several times before opening up the booklet and sitting down to write this review, I was ready to enthuse about the steadiness and professionalism of the boys’ singing when I learned that the ‘boys’ actually were girls. Solo duties are taken by several of the girls as well, and here they also cover themselves in glory … or perhaps ‘gloria’. For example, in Guy de Lioncourt’s Quid retribuam Domino?, soloists Sarah Dover and Louise Gerth are assured beyond their years, sincere: a joy to hear. (de Lioncourt’s name might suggest the Middle Ages, but he died in 1961 and was associated with the Schola Cantorum in Paris.)


Another French connection in this programme (yes, I know he was born in Belgium!) is César Franck’s Panis angelicus, which has been used and abused countless times since the dawn of sound recording. Here, it is performed with lovely, devout simplicity and purged of the sentimentality which is often forced upon it. Hearing it in this way is like seeing a restored painting by Titian. This is immediately followed by one last work from across the Channel, Jeanne Demessieux’s Te Deum. The juxtaposition is appropriate, given Demessieux’s lifelong advocacy of Franck’s organ music. It is a grand and sturdy work, based on the eponymous plainchant, and characterized by typically French imagination and regard for colour and drama. Francesca Massey, who gives such reliable and sensitive support throughout this CD, deserves this opportunity to shine on her own and she makes the most of it. This is wonderful playing.


The balance of the programme is made up of English choral works from relatively modern times, with Charles Villiers Stanford, Charles Wood and Hubert Parry representing the old guard. Among the most interesting of these is Michael Berkeley’s Advent Anthem, another recent work. Berkeley’s setting truly captures the ‘terrible beauty’ of Rowan Williams’s poem, in which November’s death and decay are succeeded by images of the ‘bursting red December sun’ and Jesus’s arrival ‘like crying in the night, / like blood, like breaking, / as the earth writhes [here, the music writhes in turn] to toss him free’. The Durham Cathedral Choir never lets the composers down; this is choral singing I would be glad to encounter anywhere and it well merits repeated listening. If you require a sample before deciding, consider Wood’s Hail Gladdening Light, whose climax takes the girls into the stratosphere without a trace of strain or intimidation.


The sound on this disc is realistic. For best effect, set the volume to lifelike levels … but don’t blame me if the neighbours complain!


Raymond S. Tuttle