Sunday 18 September 2016

David Bednall's Stabat Mater

David Bednall - Stabat Mater - Regent Records
David Bednall Stabat Mater, Ave Maria, Marian Suite; Benenden Chapel Choir, Jennifer Pike, David Bednall, Edward Whiting; Regent Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 05 2016
Star rating: 4.0

A new Stabat Mater for the unusual combination of upper voices, violin and organ

David Bednall's new Stabat Mater is written for the relatively unusual combination of upper voiced choir, violin and organ. On this disc from Regent Records the work gets its first recording by the group which commissioned it, Edward Whiting and Benenden Chapel Choir, and they are joined by David Bednall, organ, and Jennifer Pike, violin. David Bednall and Jennifer Pike also perform Bednall's Marian Suite and all performers come together for his Ave Maria.

The Stabat Mater is substantial, nearly an hour long. It is the second major work which Bednall has written for Edward Whiting and his choir, Bednall's Requiem was written for them in 2008. In his article in the CD booklet, David Bednall cites Herbert Howells' Stabat Mater as one of his influences (along with the settings by Palestrina, Pergolesi and Szymanowski). The music of Ernst Bloch and James MacMillan was also an influence, and MacMillan's own Stabat Mater will be premiered by The Sixteen this autumn.

After a lyrically intense prelude for violin and organ, where the influence of Bloch can really be felt, it is the music of Herbert Howells which really springs to mind. Bednall uses Howells familiar texture of richly harmonised organ part with a choir singing a line which is starts from a unison melody. Here Bednall's lyrical vocal writing also reminds me of Durufle in works like the Messe cum jubilo where the vocal line is super-charged plainchant. Bednall's vocal writing seems here to constantly have the idea of plainchant running behind it.

Jennifer Pike's violin is used sometimes as obbligato, to comment and punctuate, and sometimes to provide interludes. There is a highly relaxed, spacious feel to the structure of the piece. David Bednall certainly does not give the impression of being pressured by the sheer length of the poem (20 verses in all) and there are many incidental felicities for solo organ, or organ and violin. Though Bednall has conceptually grouped the verses into sections the piece plays virtually continuously, though it has been helpfully divided into 11 tracks

The choir numbers 28 girls aged between 13 and 18 and, directed by Edward Whiting, they sing with an admirably firm and flexible tone, bringing a lovely suppleness to Bednall's long chant-inspired vocal lines. Jennifer Pike's violin playing has the same lyrical intensity, though I did think she was placed too far forward in the aural mix. And of course Bednall brings the sense of the composer a ideal interpreter on the organ.

David Bednall's Marian suite for violin and organ was written for the recording and feels like an extension of the Stabat Mater. The disc concludes with the lovely Ave Maria for choir, violin and organ, written specially for the recording and given a glowing warm performance.

This not the most gut-wrenching of music, instead Bednall brings a lyrical intensity to the setting, given a poised performance by the choir and supported by some luxuriant harmonies in the organ. If Herbert Howells later liturgical music or the music of Durufle appeals to you then you should have no hesitation at listening to this disc.

David Bednall (born 1979) - Stabat Mater
David Bednall - Marian Suite
David Bednall - Ave Maria
Jennifer Pike (violin)
Benenden Chapel Choir
David Bednall (organ)
Edward Whiting (conductor)
Recorded 19-21 June 2015, Chapel of St Augustine, Tonbridge School
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