Saturday 28 October 2017

Fine debut: Sudden light, choral music by David Bednall from Epiphoni Consort

David Bednall - Sudden Light - The Epiphoni Consort
David Bednall choral music; Epiphoni Consort, Tim Reader, Stephen Farr; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 3 2017 Star rating: 4.0
With a number of first recordings, this disc is a fine survey of the lyrical choral music from the contemporary English composer David Bednall

Sudden Light is a collection of the choral music, both sacred and secular, of the British composer David Bednall on the Delphian label. The disc is a debut recording for the Epiphoni Consort, artistic director Tim Reader. The collection has 17 of Bednall's shorter choral pieces, mainly unaccompanied but some with organist Stephen Farr, and the disc opens with Bednall's 40-part motet Lux orta est iusto.

Bednall's background is in the Anglican choral tradition, he is currently Organist of the University of Bristol and Sub Organist at Bristol Cathedral. He studied with Naji Hakim and David Briggs, and between 2002 and 2007 was at Wells Cathedral, initially as Sub Organist and then as Assistant Organist.

Lux orta  est iusto, which was written to be performed alongside Tallis' Spem in alium, makes a superb opening item with the radiant luminosity of Bednall's writing making a strong impression. Performed by a group of 46 singers, this is a notable achievement from the Epiphoni Consort and throughout the disc their technical command of Bednall's sometimes challenging writing always dazzles.

That Bednall's clear inspirations lie in the Anglican tradition is emphasised by the second track, Rise up, my love where we start with a big dramatic organ solo, before the choir joins with a choral unison which develops. This is a technique familiar from the Anglican liturgical music of Howells, and Bednall used rich Howells-like harmonies. These two tracks are the longest on the disc, lasting around 15 minutes and they provide a good indication of Bednall's English-influenced style.

Though not all English, some of his harmonies are a bit naughty and it is the moments when his style and harmony is completely his own that I like the most, the hints of Messaien in some of the organ harmonies and the way his unaccompanied music can develop a lovely radiance which is all his own.

The disc is full of lovely things, but as with other single composer discs that I have reviewed, I sometimes wanted something a bit more substantial to get my teeth into rather than a sequence of shorter, but lovely moments. We hear three movements from Bednall's Christmas cantata Welcome All Wonders, which includes Tribus miraculis ornatum with its highly mobile opening section, a very particular texture.  There is a nice subtlety to Te lucis ante terminum which starts with the plainchant hymn, and develops into a lovely harmonised version. Three songs of Love, settings of English poetry, prove to be beautifully crafted English part songs which would probably make a big impression in a mixed programme but here rather struggle to stand out. The setting of Sonnet 98 stands out as having edgier harmony and more jagged lines,

There is a long, and perhaps rather effusive, article about the music from Andrew Stewart, though there is little biographical information for Bednall and rather frustratingly no dates for the pieces, so it is difficult to decide how the music might fit into Bednall's compositional development.

There are some lovely things on this disc, and I do hope that it makes choirs explore Bednall's choral output. For those interested to hear what Bednall can do on a larger scale, I can highly recommend the disc of his Stabat Mater on Regent Records (see my review). This is very much a disc to dip into, to bask in the warm glow of Bednall's Howells-inspired harmonies, and his very English lyrical gifts.

David Bednall (born 1979) - Lux orta est iusto
David Bednall - Rise up, my love
David Bednall - Te lucis ante terminum
David Bednall - Three Songs of Love
David Bednall - Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
David Bednall - Welcome All Wonders - XI Tribus miraculis ornatum
David Bednall - Welcome All Wonders - XII But peaceful was the night
David Bednall - Tota pulchra es
David Bednall - Everyone sang
David Bednall - Sonnet 98
David Bednall - A Wedding Prayer
David Bednall - Sudden Light
David Bednall - The Argument of his Book
David Bednall - Welcome All Wonders - I Alleluia
The Epihoni Consort
Tim Reader (conductor)
Stephen Farr (organ)
Recorded 28-30 October 2016 at the church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood
DELPHIAN DCD34189 1CD [70.54]
Available from Amazon.

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