Friday, 8 February 2013

CD Review - Love Abide - Roxanna Panufnik

Love Abide - Roxanna Panufnik - Warner Classics 2564 657206 - London Oratory School Schola, London Mozart Players, Voces8, London Mozart Players, Lee Ward
Roxanna Panufnik's new disc Love Abide has the tag New Choral Music - Diverse in Faith, Universal in Love. On the disc, the London Oratory School Schola (conductor Lee Ward), Voces8, Exsultate Singers (conductor David Ogden) and the London Mozart Players,  perform a diverse variety of pieces inspired by texts from a wide variety of faiths including Sufi and Zen as well as a variety of different flavours of Christian. The centrepiece of the disc is Love Abide which was written for the London Oratory School Schola and sets both a text by the Sufi mystic Rumi and St Paul's Letter to the Corinthians.

The disc opens with the 8-voice vocal consort, Voces8 (conductor Barnaby Smith) performing Love Endureth. This is a setting of Psalm 136 (135) (Praise the Lord, for he is good: for His steadfast love endureth for ever). Panufnik, who has both Jewish and Roman Catholic heritage, has brought a Jewish flavour to the setting by using fragments of old Spanish Sephardic chants and by substituting the Jewish text for the response His mercy endureth for ever at the mid-point of the piece. It opens with the psalm tune answered by more complex responses, with hints of bitonality. The middle section moves to a more developed choral texture over which a soprano floats a solo, before the opening material returns. The performance by Voces8 is superb, but it is clearly a piece that would respond as well to a larger group of singers.

Love Abide is performed by the London Oratory School Schola, the Colla Voce Singers (made up mainly of ex-London Oratory School Schola singers) and the London Mozart Players directed by Lee Ward who, at the time of recording, was director of music at the London Oratory School. The first movement, Love is the Master, is a setting of the text by Rumi (in a translation by Andrew Harvey) and Panufnik emphasises the otherness of the piece by using Sufi rhythms in the bass and a Turkish mode as the harmonic basis (a scale of C with a D flat and an A flat). The result has a rather involving rhythmic fascination as well as the profound harmonic interest brought by the scale. The opening section is intensely up-tempo in a very infectious way, leading to a change of pace and more dense harmonies, but the opening material returns leading to an ecstatic conclusion. I heard the piece live last year (see my review on this blog), and it was good to make the work's re-acquaintance. Frankly, this movement works very well on its own. The second movement is a setting of St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians (Faith, Hope, Love abide, these three: the greatest of these is love). Panufnik sets the English of the New Revised Standard Version which, though it preserves some of the poetry, lacks the true poetic resonance of the Kings James Version. This movement is twice as long as the first and uses soprano and baritone solos; the excellent Heather Shipp and Mark Stone. It is a meditative piece, with scalic passages on the strings over which soloists and chorus contemplative and expressive. It is a piece that takes its time, requiring concentration and I have to confess that I would have quite liked something of a 'big tune' at the climax.

Panufnik's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were written for St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, for liturgical use, and for the Exultate Singer. Panufnik has created something of an ecumenical hybrid as in the Magnificat she interpolates the Ave Maria into the text, so that whilst the women sing the Magnificat in ecstatic long lines, the lower parts recite the Ave Maria in more compact homophony. In the Nunc Dimittis she performs a similar trick incorporating both the English and the Latin text, it is rather a meditative piece which reaches a radiant end. The work receives a strong performance from the Exultate Singers, conductor David Ogdon, organist Richard Johnson.

Voces8 return with Zen Love Song for choir and shakuhachi, played by Kiku Day. This sets a traditional Japanese lullaby Edo Komoriuta in Japanese, which forms the back-drop to two settings of poems by the 15th century Zen mast Ikkyo (translated by John Stevenson). Panufnik successfully evokes a sound world which is very Japanese, the result is rather haunting.

The final two works on the disc are, in fact, two different views of the same work. Schola Missa de Angelis for choir and string orchestra is a setting of the plainchant Missa de Angelis  and Mass of the Angels is a reworking of this designed to be sung by a congregation, using the new English translation of the Roman Catholic liturgy. The two pieces take up some 29 minutes, nearly half of the disc's length, and not everyone will appreciate the dominance of these pieces on the disc's running order.

Schola Missa de Angelis is quite a complex work, Panufnik embeds the chant in the texture and surrounds it with a miasma of textures, incorporating both the Latin and sometimes the English words. Textures can get quite dense and you can lose sight of the chant. After a couple of listenings, I did wonder whether the piece might be a little too complex and multi-layered to come over during a service. Rather than take the chant as its impetus, the piece rather meanders round it, a contemplation on the chant rather than a setting. Mass of the Angels is inevitably more direct, and using just organ accompaniment, is a piece which I could imagine working well in a liturgical context. Both pieces receive fine performances from the London Oratory School Schola.

I am not quite sure that the pieces on this disc coalesce into a coherent whole, but I know from personal experience that assembling a disc of contemporary choral music is a mixture of trial, error and compromise. The disc was partially finance with the help of Angels, each of whom got to dedicate one of the tracks, a rather neat and effective method. There are also two animations by Mischa Giancovich included on the disc, rather effective visual encapsulations of Love is the Master and Zen Love Song.

There are some fascinating pieces on this disc, in fine performances, and anyone interested in contemporary sacred music or Panufnik's investigations of world music should have no doubts about buying. The presence of 29 minutes of music based on the missa de angelis might prove a difficulty for some, but may prove an advantage to others. Do try it.

Love Abide

New Choral Music by Roxanna Panufnik

Love Abide - Roxanna Panufnik - Warner Classics 2564 657206 - London Oratory School Schola, London Mozart Players, Voces8, London Mozart Players, Lee Ward
Love Endureth - Voces8, Barnaby Smith (conductor) [4.19]
Love Abide - Heather Shipp (mezzo-soprano), Mark Stone (baritone), London Oratory School Schola, Colla Voce Singers, London Mozart Players, Lee Ward (conductor) [13.58]
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis - Exultate Singers, Richard Johnson (organ), David Ogden (conductor) [8.53]
Zen Love Song - Voces9, Kuku Day (shakuhachi), Barnaby Smith (conductor) [5.59]
Schola Missa de Angelis - Gilles Sinclair (treble), Ben Fleetwood Smyth (tenor), London Oratory School Schola, London Mozart Players, Lee Ward (conductor) [16.42]
Mass of the Angels - Ben Fleetwood Smyth (tenor), London Oratory School Schola, Tom Little (organ), Lee Ward (conductor) [12.22]

Recorded Fairfield Halls Croydon, 7-9 July 2012, St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, 26 September 2012
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 65720-6  1 CD [64.10]

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