'Engaging directness': Julian Anderson's Choral Music Recorded

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A new disc of Anderson’s choral music from The Choir of Gonville and Caius, Cambridge and their Music Director Geoffrey Webber has been named Album of the Week in the Sunday Times (and was later listed in their top 100 Recordings of the Year) . Released on Delphian, the disc includes the first commercial recording of the Bell Mass alongside O Sing Unto the Lord, My Beloved Spake, I Saw Eternity and the Four American Choruses (the latter proves a fascinating complement to the existing recording by the much larger forces of the CBSO Chorus under Simon Halsey). Full details of the disc can be found here.

 

 

 

REVIEWS

‘…sung with vivid assurance… [The] missa brevis, Bell Mass,[is] notable for a radiantly extended Osanna and an ecstatic Dona nobis pacem. Four American Choruses have an incantatory, bluesy feel. Anderson delights in splitting his singers into overlapping strands. The results are rich and engaging.
The Observer (Fiona Maddocks), 26 August 2018

 

My Beloved Spake is a wedding anthem of engaging directness… Bell Mass, a five-part “missa brevis” composed for Westminster Abbey, and an acoustically self-aware essay like so many by Anderson, builds the resonance of the cathedral’s bells into the texture in precise detail, to rich effect… I Saw Eternity, to a tiny slice of a Henry Vaughan poem, is five minutes of rapture.’
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), 17 August 2018

 

‘Anderson’s Thebans, his most elaborate and ambitious musical statement to date, provides a penetrating analysis of human anxieties and aspirations in a world where god’s hold sway. It’s impossible not to sense similar qualities of these choral settings of Christian texts. Anderson gives full weight to the sense of wonder that religious beliefs can inspire… this programme reverberates with the richly coloured environments of stained glass, pealing bells and soaring architectural symmetry found in the great cathedrals and college chapels. Sung by an outstanding Cambridge choir and sensitively recorded… the result is tremendously rewarding. Anderson’s distinctive musical way of tempering the untroubled serenity to which true believers aspire is on full display in ‘Beautiful valley of Eden’ demonstrates Anderson’s skill at loosening the kind of fixities found in Byrd or Bach without undermining all sense of coherence… [Anderson’s] music is never more arresting than when imaginatively exploiting distinctions between the community – the choir as a collective entity – and individual solo voices, or when evoking bell-like resonance to maximum dramatic effect.’
Gramophone (Arnold Whittall), September 2018

 

 

‘This is ravishing… from the relative simplicity of My Beloved Spake and I’m a Pilgrim via the delicious stretched tunings in the ‘Benedictus’ from Bell Mass… Webber and the Choir shimmer and scintillate in conveying Anderson’s broad musical and emotional pallete. It is clear that all involved have the kind of deep familiarity with these pieces that enables a sense of freshness and spontaneity, captured marvellously by Delphian…’
BBC Music Magazine (Christopher Dingle), October 2018

 

‘An exemplary disc. The thing about Anderson’s music is that the more you time you invest in listening to it, the better it gets.  It’s very engaging music indeed… His big thing is how you portray light in music, which is a wonderful fascination to have… underlying the whole thing is a proper craft.  Here is somebody who understands counterpoint, who understands the pacing of harmony, who is so respectful of the voice.’
BBC Radio 3 Record Review (Jeremy Summerly), 29 September 2018

 

O sing unto the Lord is referentially a celebration of the singing voice. [My Beloved Spake] is a lovely wedding anthem, a remarkable Bell Mass… The outstanding track is a setting of the opening lines of Henry Vaughan’s ‘I saw Eternity the other night’… The choir has worked with this material for two years… to the point where it sounds like their natural language.’
Choir & Organ (Brian Morton), November|December 2018

‘This is a fascinating disc and shows Anderson to have real flair as a composer of choral music… The Gloria [of the Bell Mass] starts straight in, without any intonation by the priest; its leaping lines are reminiscent of Tippett. The Sanctus is exultant but also remote and unearthly, with passages of dazzling brightness and jagged lines on the organ… The Agnus begins with stuttering fragments, like some of late Stravinsky, and there is something of Messiaen in the winding organ line too. It gathers strength to become a vocal version of a peal of bells before the sopranos disappear into the heavens. This is a remarkable work… O sing unto the Lord is the earliest work here… we find the young composer fully in command of his material and already working out his own idiom.’
MusicWeb International (Stephen Barber), 16 January 2019

 

In other recording news, the PRS Composers’ Fund has supported a project which will see both Anderson’s ballet The Comedy of Change and his oratorio Heaven is Shy of Earth released on disc. This will be the second Anderson portrait disc from the Ondine label, after the Gramophone Award-winning disc of orchestral and ensemble music back in 2007. A disc of chamber music, with the Nash Ensemble, will be recorded next year.