Monday 18 January 2016

Time and its passing - Rodolfus Choir, Ralph Allwood

Time and its Passing - Rodolfus Choir, Ralph Allwood
John Tavener, Thomas Tallis, Gabriel Jackson, Arvo Pärt, Gerald Finzi, Zoltan Kodaly, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Recknell, Adrian Cruft, Henry Ley, Herbert Howells, Benjamin Rowarth, Thomas Tallis, C. Hubert Parry, Thomas Luis de Victoria and Johann Sebastian Bach; Rodolfus Choir, Ralph Allwood; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 15 2016
Star rating: 4.0

An intriguing programme and a numinous beauty of tone in a this programme from the young choir arising out of the Eton Choral Courses.

This disc from Ralph Allwood and the Rodolfus Choir explores the fascinating concept of time and its passing in a programme which mixes old and new in an exploration of different concepts of time represented in music. Issued on the Signum Classics label, the composers represented are a diverse group including John Tavener, Thomas Tallis, Gabriel Jackson, Arvo Pärt, Gerald Finzi, Zoltan Kodaly, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Recknell, Adrian Cruft, Henry Ley, Herbert Howells, Benjamin Rowarth, Thomas Tallis, C. Hubert Parry, Thomas Luis de Victoria and Johann Sebastian Bach.

The young singers of the Rodolfus Choir are alumni of the Eton Choral Courses run by their conductor Ralph Allwood and the choir has lovely clear bright sound with a fine sense of legato, nicely even tone and some notably clear, pure sopranos, along with fine technical control.

All this is showcased in the opening work, John Tavener's O Do not move which is tiny but perfect, sung with a lovely even radiant tone. The second item is Thomas Tallis's third mode melody from Archbishop Parker's Psalter sung to words by the 17th century priest and hymn writer, John Mason. Here the piece is sung with such a lovely smooth sense of legato that the words to a certain extent seem to be sacrificed.

Ralph Allwood and the Rodolfus Choir
Ralph Allwood and the Rodolfus Choir
The early pieces on the disc are all sung in this manner so that with Tallis''s Miserere Nostri, Byrd's Diliges Dominum, Orlando Gibbons What is our life?  and Victoria's Lux aeterna you have to admire the smooth legato sound and wonderful blended sound, but words are often sacrificed to legato and sense of line and detail are less important than blend Though at its best, this style of singing brings a wonderful radiance to the sound.

Beautiful though it sounded, it took me a couple of goes to check whether Kodaly's Esti dal was sung in English or Hungarian, and rather regrettably it is sung in English. But the sound quality is truly magical. Finzi's Haste On, My Joys! from his Robert Bridges settings comes across as a bit fuzzy and I would have liked a greater clarity of line (and text!). Henry Ley's A Prayer of King Henry VI was new to me and proved a nicely formed motet with echoes of the antique to it. Howells' Even Such is Time was smoothly poised with a lovely quiet yet intense radiance, whilst Parry's Music, When Soft Voices Die benefits from the beautiful blend and shapely sense of phrasing in the choir.

Arvo Part's Nunc Dimittis seems just made for the choir, with its numinous sound and lovely control and soft focus. But there is a gentle edge too, and a stunning climax. The same can be said of Part's ...Which Was The Son Of... but this is one of Part's few works where the choir needs to make the diction work better than it does here. Adrian Cruft's These Hours is perfectly crafted and rather evokes the spirit of RVW. Gabriel Jackson's To Morning seems to inhabit an Arvo Part-ish world, creating some brilliant radiance with widely spaced chords and here the choir's lovely high sopranos come into their own. Thomas Recknell's Ozyymandias is a richly romantic piece with some lovely luscious textures, as befits a setting of Shelly's poem. Though Recknell's style evokes RVW, Howells and the Baltic composers, he seems to weave these together into something imaginative. Benjamin Rowarth's The Evening Watch, setting a text by Henry Vaughan, is full of transparent textures and high sustained harmonies creating a very lush rich and quite specific voice. Overall it is thoughtful and contemplative, the influence of English mid 20th century composers given a modern twist.

The disc concludes with the Et incarnatus est from Bach's Mass in B Minor accompanied by Max Barley on organ. Beautifully done, but I am  not sure I want my Bach to sound like this.

Quite how you react to this disc will depend on how the choir's very specific sound quality appeals to you. If their beauty of sound and numinous radiance captivates you, you will not worry about the sacrifices of text and detail. The programme itself is thoughtful and imaginative, with a well chosen selection of works both old and new which have a finely varied examination of the concept of time.

O, Do Not Move - John Tavener [1.52]
Thou Wast, O God, and Thou Wast Blest - Thomas Tallis [3.21]
To Morning - Gabriel Jackson [2.27]
The Three Ravens - Traditional, arr. Edward Chapman [5.25]
Nunc dimittis - Arvo Part [6.05]
Haste On, My Joys! - Gerald Finzi [1.59]
Esti dal (Evening Song) - Zoltan Kodaly [3.10]
...Which Was The Son Of... - Arvo Part [7.40]
Diliges Dominum - William Byrd [3.30]
What Is Our Life? - Orlando Gibbons [4.10]
Ozymandias - Thomas Recknell [5.53]
These Hours - Adrian Cruft [2.29]
A Prayer of King Henry VI - Henry Ley [1.52]
Even Such is Time - Herbert Howells [5.51]
The Evening Watch - Benjamin Rowarth [5.36]
Miserere nostri - Thomas Tallis [2.59]
Music, When Soft Voices Die - C. Hubert H. Parry [2.15]
Lux aeterna from Requiem a6 - Tomas Luis de Victoria [3.55]
Et incarnatus est from B Minor Mass - Johann Sebatian Bach [3.11]
Rodolfus Choir
Ralph Allwood (conductor)
Max Barley (organ)
Recorded in the church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, 16-18 July 2015

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