Friday 16 September 2016

Testament to a friendship: Truro Cathedral Choir in music by Gabriel Jackson

Vox Clara - Truro Cathedral Choir - Regent Records
Vox Clara, music by Gabriel Jackson including Missa Triueriensis; Truro Cathedral Choir, Joel Garthwaite, Luke Bond, Christopher Gray; Regent Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 30 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Truro Cathedral Choir performs music written for it, creating an attractive programme of Gabriel Jackson's sacred music

The centrepiece of this new disc of Gabriel Jackson's music on Regent Records is his Missa Triueriensis which was written for Truro Cathedral Choir. Here Truro Cathedral Choir and conductor Christopher Gray have put together an attractive selection of Jackson's sacred music, five of the pieces were written specifically for the choir,  including the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Truro Service) and two pieces designed to show off the trebles, That wind blowing and that tide and Cantate Domino. As such the disc very much documents the composer's long-term friendship with the choir. On some of the items the choir is joined by saxophonist Joel Garthwaite and by organist Luke Bond.

We open with Vox clara ecce intonat, which was written for Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College, Cambridge, and uses Joel Garthwaite's saxophone, with Jackson's programme note referring to the instrument's shofar-like qualities. After a dramatic statement, the work is attractively lyric and clearly by Jackson, with an appealing intertwining of saxophone and choir.

Jackson contributed a setting of one of the Advent O Anthems to the set of seven, each by a different composer, which Merton College, Oxford commissioned in 2012. Two years later, Jackson wrote his own full set using the existing anthem as a starting point. The complete work was premiered by Truro Cathedral Choir in December 2014. After an attractively polyphonic O Sapientia, there is a pairing of first low and then high voices. The low voices in O Adonai are quite and intense, whilst the high voices bring an intimacy and clarity to O Radix Jesse. O Claves David is the existing one, brilliant and vivid with a quietly contrasting middle section. O Oriens opens with another highly brilliant passage with the choristers almost ulullating, and Jackson contrasts this with quieter, more unison passages. O Rex Gentium is far more intense, with a lyrical solo from treble Harry Flint. Finally O Emmanuel brings things to conclusion, with a lyrical unison decorated chant-like melody which develops into a radiant conclusion. Throughout the seven pieces, Jackson creates a sense of balance and harmony between the variety of textures, all linked by his own highly appealing harmonic sense.

The organ solo Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen is played by Luke Bond, it was also commissioned by Merton College as part of William Whitehead's Orgelbuchlein project, where composers from all over the world contributed the missing choral preludes from Bach's Orgelbuchlein. Jackson's piece is a highly decorated melody, punctuated by irregular chords.

That wind blowing and that tide was written for the choristers of Truro Cathedral, setting Rudyard Kipling's My boy Jack for trebles, organ and saxophone. It opens with a highly evocative saxophone solo with quiet organ, and Jackson' setting brings out the poems two different voices with two different choral textures. The result is rather magical, with a nice clarity and flexibility from the boys and my only complaint is that I rather struggled to hear the words.

The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Truro Service) was written for Truro in 2001 (when the choir was directed by Andrew Nethsingha), and Jackson uses his own version of fauxbourdon with an alternation of decorated chant-like monody and plain-spoken homophony. The decorated chant could not be by anyone else than Jackson, expressive and direct with a lovely quirk to the decorations, and his homophonic passages bring a poignantly expressive dissonance to bear. You can pick up influences, such as Arvo Pärt and James MacMillan, but all are woven into Jackson's overall style.

Holy is the Light was written for Westminster Abbey Choir, and its rich, expressive and rather close harmonies create a sense of radiance as the work moves towards climax. Aria for Joel and Vicki was written for the wedding of the saxophonist Joel Garthwaite, so of course the work is for saxophone (tenor) and organ. The combination makes for an interesting texture, with Jackson developing different strands in each of the verses.

Cantate Domino was written in 2013 for the 125th anniversary of the cathedral's foundation, and was designed to show off the trebles. The result is a lovely firm yet flexible unison line, sung with a nice clear tone, supported by a toccata like organ, with harmonised interjections from the men. It develops into something quite dramatic and striking. The trebles of Westminster Cathedral Choir were also intended to be the stars of Confirm hoc Deus and Factus est repente (the Offertory and Communion for Pentecost). The first is an uplifting piece of brilliant, virtuoso chant which develops more complex textures, whilst Factus est repente is quieter and more intense, but still with a beautiful line for the trebles.

Finally the Missa Triueriensis, written for the choir in 2005 to celebrate the composer's father's 75th birthday. Jackson describes it as compact and direct, inspired by the Byrd masses but suitable for modern liturgy, with plenty of references to early music. There is a lovely gentleness for much of the Kyrie, and the music is full of lovely polyphonic textures, whilst the Gloria has its jazzier moments. The short Sanctus is all vibrant radiance, whilst the Benedictus is quiet yet magical in its texture. The Agnus Dei starts of quite austerely with just two line, but Jackson allows his textures to thicken until the lovely transparency of the closing pages.

With its intelligent modern polyphony, the mass is a winner for anyone interested in practical yet magical modern liturgical music. And as such, is a fitting climax to an attractive record which combines useful music with Jackson's fine knack of creating memorable and appealing textures.

Gabriel Jackson (born 1962) - Vox clara ecce intonat
Gabriel Jackson - Seven Advent Antiphons
Gabriel Jackson - Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du berbrochen
Gabriel Jackson - That wind blowing and that tide
Gabriel Jackson - Magnificat and Nunc Dimitts (Truro Service)
Gabriel Jackson - Holy is the true light
Gabriel Jackson - Aria for Joel and Vicki
Gabriel Jackson - Cantate Domino
Gabriel Jackson - Confirma hoc Deus
Gabriel Jackson - Factus est repente
Gabriel Jackson - Missa Triueriensis
Truro Cathedral Choir
Joe Garthwaite (saxophone)
Luke Bond (organ)
Christopher Gray (director)
Recorded in Truro Cathedral, 5-8 May 2015
Available from Amazon.

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