As we head towards Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday in the Christian calendar there is a timely release of a new recording from Harmonia Mundi www.harmoniamundi.com featuring the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge www.clarecollegechoir.com and the Dmitiri Ensemble http://dmitriensemble.co.uk under director Graham Ross www.grahamross.com
Entitled Ascendit Deus: Music for Ascensiontide and Pentecost it covers mainly 20th composers, including no less than five World Premiere recordings.
The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge opens with an early work, Peter Philips’ (c.1560-1638) Ascendit Deus where they bring a fine layering of vocal sounds in this bright and joyful piece.
The trumpets of the Dmitri Ensemble open Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) O Clap Your Hands adding to the textures at selected moments as does the organ as the choir sound out in Vaughan Williams’ gloriously uplifting motet.
Patrick Gowers’ (b.1936) name can be seen on numerous film and television credits. Here his Viri Galilaei, orchestrated by Graham Ross, receives its world premiere recording. It has an effective opening for brass as the voices gently sing the text, creating a wonderfully otherworldly atmosphere. Here, particularly, the choir bring some fine blending of voices with noted contributions from tenor Laurence Booth-Clibborn and bass Elliot Fitzgerald as well as organists Matthew Jorysz and Peter Harrison. They build to a fine central climax in this distinctive setting beautifully sung, with a lovely final alleluia.
Brett Dean’s (b. 1961) Was it a voice? (Music for Ascension Day) is another world premiere recording. It has a beautiful opening as a shifting blend of voices slowly rises with fine dissonances bringing a dream like quality. The choir arrive at a strikingly lovely section as their voices chime out the word ‘Solace’ before building further. The lovely coda is given much care and sensitivity.
The third world premiere recording given here is Nico Muhly’s (b.1981) Let All the World in Every Corner Sing where the cello of Ben Michaels opens along with organist of Peter Harrison. When the choir enter they weave a fine sound along with passages for cello and an underlying organ support. Muhly creates some fine moments, expertly handled here.
Organist Matthew Jorysz brings a majesty to the opening of Gerald Finzi’s (1901-1956) God is gone up before the choir enter, raising this fine setting ever more magnificently with some very fine contributions from individual sections of the choir.
Charles Villiers Stanford’s ((1852-1924) Coelos ascendit hodie has a joyful celebratory feel, perfectly caught by this choir before we come to the Credo from
Frank Martin’s (1890-1974) Messe There are some very fine individual contributions from sections of the choir in this still undervalued work, full of much depth and beauty. This choir achieves a beautifully refined sound, responding so well to Martin’s sudden outburst at ‘Crucifixus’ as well as bringing tremendous vocal textures to ‘Et resurrexit’.
Graham Ross (b. 1985) has a world premiere recording of his own Ascendo ad Patrem meum opening with a high saxophone motif that slowly develops, bringing an unusual flavour. When the choir enter they bring a gentle, beautifully controlled sound, along with a mournful, bluesy saxophone accompaniment. Anthony Brown’s solo sax passages are terrifically done. A very fine work.
The organ rises up before the choir enter in Judith Weir’s (b. 1954) Ascending into heaven, full of unusual ideas for the voices with rising and descending organ runs and a contrasting vocal line that also begins to ascend. There are fine moments for tenor Christopher Loyn, baritone Hugo Popplewell and mezzo-sopranos Eleanor Warner and Abigail Gostick with some really fine weaving of vocal and organ lines.
Jonathan Harvey’s (1939-2012) Come, Holy Ghost is a most beautiful setting, a fine tribute to this composer who died in 2012. This choir bring the most lovely textures with some very fine individual moments from the soloists Caroline Meinhardt (sop), Christopher Loyn (tenor) and Hugo Popplewell (baritone).
The brief Pinsesalme by Edvard Grieg (1843-1934) receives a very fine performance, quite beautiful.
One of the finest of Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) melodies is his setting of The Spirit of the Lord is upon me from his great oratorio The Apostles. This lovely piece opens on the organ as it states the lovely theme. When the choir enter they bring a hushed, magical quality, restrained, rising centrally before a lovely coda as the opening is repeated.
The final work on this disc is another world premiere recording, Giles Swayne’s (b. 1946) God is gone up (A Song for the Ascension). There are some dynamic organ phrases in the opening before the choir enter to repeat ‘He is gone.’ As the work progresses the choir weave around the organ, slowly increasing in tempo and becoming more animated, working brilliantly through some complex passages before a gentler coda.
This is a very fine choral disc that will bring enjoyment not just at Ascensiontide and Pentecost but throughout the year. The recordings from three different venues all add a spaciousness and breadth with producer and engineer, John Rutter, knowing just what to achieve with a choral sound. There is a beautifully produced booklet that includes colour photographs of various pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows.
There are full texts and translations with excellent notes from Graham Ross.