Thursday, 12 February 2015

Spiritual music in a secular world - One Equal Music

One Equal Music
Harris, Bairstow, Rachmaninov, Part, Jackson, Beamish, Lauridsen, McMillan, Moore, Parry; St Peter's Singers, Simon Lindley
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 05 2015
20th century and modern spiritual music recorded in a secular setting in Leeds

One Equal Music is the name of a project by the St Peters Singers, Leeds, conductor Simon Lindley to perform and record a programme of music in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds. The music chosen is all unashamedly spiritual, written by 20th century and modern composers, but performed in the commercial heart of the Leeds. The music encompasses music by William Harris, Edward Bairstow, Serge Rachmaninov, Hubert Parry, Francis Jackson, Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, James MacMillan and Sally Beamish. The oldest piece on the disc dates from 1906 and the most recent from 2008, and a number have a Leeds or York connection.

They open with William Harris's Bring us, O Lord God which exists in the same sound world as his other double choir motet Faire is the Heaven though it was written far later (in 1961 with earlier motet dating from 1925). They follow this with Let all mortal flesh keep silence (1906) by Edward Bairstow another piece in the richly romantic vein of English choral music which was written for Leeds Parish Church where he was organist.


Simon Lindley conductor St Peter's Singers in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds
Simon Lindley conductor St Peter's Singers
in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds
Eric Whitacre's Alleluia (2011) is choral romanticism of a different kind, with Whitacre's familiar blend of melodic felicity and harmonic quirkiness.  We return to Harris for Faire is the Heaven, his double choir setting of Spenser which is a favourite of just about every choral singers that I know. St. Peter's Singers are clearly no different and their enjoyment is clearly apparent.

Arvo Part's Magnificat from 1989 works very well in the acoustic, with the engineers giving a nicely evocative aura to the choir's concentrated performance, full of quiet intensity. Bogorodiste dyevo from Rachmaninov's All-night Vigil - Vespers (1915) has a lovely lightness and fluidity, with the clarity which a lot of Anglophone choirs bring to this music.

Sally Beamish's In the Stillness (2007) has a lovely melodic felicity whilst never seeming to be banal or to talk down, it is an apparently simple but lovely piece. O magnum mysterium (1994) by Morten Lauridsen has become a firm favourite with choirs everywhere. Here St Peter's Singers bring a nice glow to Lauridsen's trademark close-harmony chords. James MacMillan's O Radiant Dawn (2008) from his Strathclyde Motets is another of those simple but perfect modern pieces which show that complexity is not the only way.

Philip Moore succeeded Francis Jackson as Organist and Master of the Music at York Minster in 1983, a post he held until his retirement in 2008. His Three Prayers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2002) set texts taken Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letter and Papers from Prison which Moore has selected into three movements, Morning Prayers, Prayers in time of Distress and Evening Prayers. The first starts with an intense unaccompanied solo from Lucy Appleyard, before being joined by the choir and quietly lyrical movement. Moore writes intelligently in a modern tonal style but with chromatic elements and his vocal lines are expressive rather than tuneful.The second movement is faster and edgier, with some highly distinctive use of augmented fourths in the harmony. The last movement opens with a lovely lyrical tenor solo from Christopher Trenholme, and continues flowingly lyrical yet quietly intense.
 
As you might expect from a choral director, his choral writing is highly expressive. I have enjoyed Moore's music before, but never come across these works and certainly hope to hear them again.

They follow this with a work by Moore's predecessor at York, Francis Jackson. Evening Hymn Op.36, No.2 (1975) sets Thomas Browne and it a richly textured piece with some quite dense and tricky choral writing. Jackson is responding to Browne's text, Sleep is death, O make me try by sleepng what it is to die, so this is not an easy relaxing piece. But it is accessible and beautifully crafted, and receives a fine performance here.


Hubert Parry's My soul, there is a country (1916 - 1918) from his Songs of Farewell, entirely lacks the bombast that might be associated with this composer and instead reflects the more considered poetic side of his writing. Deservedly popular with choirs, St Peter's Singers give a fine account. They then close with another William Harris piece, this time a shorter one Holy is the true light

St. Peter's Singers was founded in 1977 by a senior adult chorister at Leeds Minster. The choir is directed by Simon Lindley and is made up a mix of professional, semi-professional and amateur performers. Simon Lindley is Master of the Music at Leeds Minster and Leeds City Organist.

Conducted by Simon Lindley, who shows clear sympathy with the music, the choir makes a lovely clear, bright sound with clearly a number of young voices in the mix. The acoustic brings a lovely bloom to the voices whilst preserving clarity. Victoria Quarter in Leeds is a modern arcade, created by roofing over streets which were designed by the great theatre architect Frank Matcham.


William Harris (1883 - 1973) - Bring us, O Lord God (1961) [3.21]
Edward Bairstow (1874 - 1946) - Let all mortal flesh keep silence (1906) [3.34]
Eric Whitacre (born 1970) - Alleluia (2011) [8.14]
William Harris (1883 - 1973) - Faire is the Heaven (1925) [4.52]
Arvo Part (born 1935) - Magnificat (1989) [6.35]
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) -Bogorodiste Dyevo (1915) [2.34]
Sally Beamish (born 1956) - In the stillness (2007) [2.16]
Morten Lauridsen (born 1943) - O magnum mysterium (1994) [6.35]
James MacMillan (born 1958) - O Radiant Dawn (2008) [4.28]
Philip Moore (born 1943) - Three Prayers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2002) [15.33]
Francis Jackson (born 1917) - Evening Hymn (1975) [6.08]
Hubert Parry (1948 - 1918) - My soul, there is a country (1916 -1918) [3.47]
William Harris (1883 - 1973) - Holy is the True Light (1948) [1.58]
St Peter's Singers
Simon Lindley (conductor)
Recorded Victoria Quarter, Leeds, 2014

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