The second volume in the Magnificat series by Andrew Nethsingha and The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge takes a keen look at settings of the Evening Canticles across the years, from 1932 to 2019 from stalwart composers of the canon in Sumsion and Howells to perhaps lesser-known figures including Sydney Watson (who conducted the first performance of Walton’s epic The Twelve) and Giles Swayne, as well as contemporary titans Arvo Pärt and Julian Anderson.
Swayne’s wonderfully dynamic Magnificat I setting revels in repetition, bearing African influences, pitching glowing upper-voices over repeated lower voices, whilst a radiant ‘Amen’ recedes skywards. There is the usual vigorous, robust setting by Walton, a richly celebratory response to the text’s jubilation. Luminous cluster-chords opens Lennox Berkeley’s meditative, contemplative setting, which pushes ahead with a wonderfully expressive flow, in contrast to Swayne’s rhythmically robust response. Pärt’s hushed, timeless incarnation of the text is filled with a reverential awe in its widely-spaced textures and unhurried pace.
The disc finishes with the challenging, bracing setting by Julian Anderson, written for the college’s 150th anniversary in 2019. His Magnificat is vibrant with polyrhythms and a dizzying web of textures; contrasting lyrical, melodic lines unfold over glowing sustained chords in Anderson’s richly colourful tonal language. In contrast is a sedate, darker-hued Nunc Dimittis – which brings the whole disc to a reverentially hushed conclusion.
The introductory essay by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, speaks of “these ancient hymns, so redolent of continuities yet so full of radical surprise,” words true both of the canticles and of this absorbing treasury, impeccably performed by St John’s College Cambridge Choir under the direction of Andrew Nethsingha.
Magnificat 2 is released on 16 April on Signum Classics.
Congratulations to the Chamber Choir, which participated in an unusual event last Friday at St Michael’s Church, Hernhill.
During the winter months, the church offers the opportunity to escape the pace of the Digital Age, and sit for an hour in a fifteenth-century venue by candlelight, listening to a sequence of music and silence as a means of creating a calm, meditative space in which to reflect and relax.
The Chamber Choir performed an evocative combination of choral music and silence by candlelight, creating a meditative space rich in contrasting colours. The church bell striking eight o’clock during a moment of silence partway through was especially atmospheric, matched by the sighing of the wind in the roof, the creaking of the ancient timbers and the guttering candle-flames dancing in the draughty dark.
A magical experience for an appreciative congregation; the Choir is talking about doing the event again, so watch this (meditative) space…
Students in the University Chamber Choir had the opportunity to work with one of Britain’s leading composers in rehearsal yesterday, in preparation for singing in the University Carol Service in Canterbury Cathedral next month.
The choir was privileged to welcome Russell Hepplewhite to its usual evening rehearsal, to work on Russell’s Star of the East. It can be a daunting prospect, performing a composer’s work in their presence, but the Choir rose to the occasion magnificently.
Hailed by the Evening Standard as ‘one of the brightest young talents to have emerged in recent years,’ Russell’s award-winning work has been commissioned to critical acclaim by English Touring Opera, and his choral works are part of the recent Genesis Choral Library series launched by Banks Music Publications. His next work, Moonfleet, is set to open at the Salisbury Playhouse in April.
It was a terrific opportunity for the students to get to grips with contemporary music with the composer offering them insights into the creation of the work and its realisation; huge thanks to Russell for coming down from London especially last night; we’re looking forward to unfurling the piece in the majestic Nave of Canterbury Cathedral on 11 December.