Friday 4 May 2018

Sonorous debut: Neil Ferris & Sonoro in Frank Martin & James MacMIllan

Passion and Polypony - Sonoro, Neil Ferris - Resonus Classics
Frank Martin Mass for double choir, James MacMillan Miserere & motets; Sonoro, Neil Ferris; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Bucking the trend, debut recording from a choir which sings with great vibrancy of tone

It sometimes seems as if London might have a finite pool of professional singers, with familiar faces cropping up in a variety of different ensembles. But the combination of conductor and a particular line-up of personnel can create striking differences [see my interview with Suzi Digby for an interesting discussion on this subject].

The choir Sonoro (made up of 20 professional singers), conducted by Neil Ferris, with the explicit intention of creating a very particular sound quality. As might be expected from its name, Sonoro is designed to have a rather more sonorous sound quality with a greater use of vibrato.

This is Sonoro's debut disc, on the Resonus Classics label, under Neil Ferris's direction they perform a programme of music by James MacMillan and Frank Martin, pairing Martin's 1922 Mass for Double Choir with seven of MacMillan's sacred pieces including his large-scale Miserere. It is an interesting, and perhaps surprising, pairing yet it works because the two composers owe an inspiration to polyphony with each brings his own distinctive twist to the mix.

The Martin mass is given in a big, vibrant performance with some vividly created textures and tonal colourings. But that is not to say that subtlety is lacking, and the smaller scale sections with just one or two voices created moments of beauty and calm. The use of such vibrant individual voices requires careful blending in the choir, and this Ferris does superbly whilst urging his singers to a passionate, sometimes almost operatic articulation of the passion of the music. But this contrasts finely with the intense feeling of control, these singers known when let go and when not to.

I enjoyed the performance, but have to confess that I prefer a slightly cooler tone from the choir in this music with a greater sense of line. Here, instead were have vibrant textures, thrilling climaxes and ripely expressive tone.

The selection of music by James MacMillan includes two of the Strathclyde Motets, Data est mihi omnis potestas and the rightly popular O Radiant Dawn, plus one of MacMillan's earliest works Hymn to the Blessed Sacrament with its beautiful interweaving of solo viola and oboe (Benjamin Roskams and Emily Pailthorpe). The Miserere is built on another scale, lasting over 12 minutes and MacMillan's use of the voices creates a variety of different textures from full ensemble to small solo groups. Ferris and the choir bring these out well, creating a variety of colours and, as in the Martin, ensuring technique and style matches the music.

This is an impressive debut from a choir which is deliberatly designed to buck the trend, and base itself on a sound-quality far removed from the traditional English cathedral and college sound.

James MacMillan (born 1959) - Cecilia Virgo
James MacMillan - Children are a heritage of the Lord
James MacMillan - Miserere
Frank Martin (1890-1974) - Mass for Double Choir
James MacMillan - Hymn to the Blessed Sacrament
James MacMillan - Brings us, O Lord God
James MacMillan - Data est mihi omnis potestas
James MacMillan - O Radiant Dawn
Neil Ferris (conductor)
Recorded in St Augustine's Church, Kilburnn, London on 14-16 June 2017.
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Gilbert & Cellier: A work of real musical personality, The Mountebanks rediscovered  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivica Genaux & Sonia Prina recreate the music sung by two great castratos at the Wigmore Hall  (★★★★) - concert review
  • The story of a journey: Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn in Schubert's Winter Journey  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Welcome to the Magical Garden or perhaps the Garden of Magic: the piano music of Robert Saxton (★★★★) - CD review
  • Philip Venables' 4:48 Psychosis returns (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Thrilling revival: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Covent Garden (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • Striking double in Clapham: Shadwell Opera debuts a new work with powerful Janacek song-cycle (★★★½) - opera review
  • Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Passio: from Tallis & Purcell to Kevin Hartnett via Bach (★★★)  - CD review
  • Out of the parlour and into the recital room - Hubert Parry's English lyrics (★★★★)  -  CD review
  • Beethoven unbound and Schubert cycles, I chat to Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams - interview
  • Bernstein, Debussy, Parry, Smyth, Bridge, Boulanger, Owen - BBC Proms 2018 - preview
  • What an unalloyed joy! And if all this isn’t advert enough for some sensible funding I don’t know what is (★★★★) - concert review
  • Songs of Vain Glory: Sophie Bevan & Sebastian Wybrew (★★★★) - CD review
  • Home

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