Friday 24 August 2018

A different side to Julian Anderson revealed in this disc of choral music from Gonville & Caius

Julian Anderson choral music - Delphian
Julian Anderson choral music; Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber; Delphian Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 August 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Superb performances illuminate a disc which reveals a different side to contemporary composer Julian Anderson

The composer Julian Anderson is not particularly known for his choral music, but this new disc from Delphian helps provide an illuminating insight into that particular aspect of the composer's work. Geoffrey Webber and the choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge perform a range of Anderson's music including anthems, his Bell Mass and Four American Choruses.

We start with the anthem My beloved spake which was written as a wedding anthem for choir and organ. There are interesting chromatic hints in the melody lines, and the choral writing is full of quite austere polyphony with some striking organ interruptions. The whole creating rather a thoughtful effect.

The Bell Mass was written for James O'Donnell and the choir of Westminster Abbey, and the name comes from the fact that the entire setting is built around the modes and resonances of the key of D, that of the bells of the Abbey, and in places Anderson maps the bell spectra onto vocal registers. It is a missa brevis (without 'Credo') and with organ accompaniment. The 'Kyrie' is vigorous with dense part writing, and a thoughtful 'Christe' in contrast, whilst the organ contributes instrumental interludes between the sections. The 'Gloria' is fast and rhythmic over an organ toccata, with only the 'Quoniam' section being somewhat slower, and the rhythms become strikingly jagged towards the end of the movement. The 'Sanctus' starts strongly with dense chords moving into dense polyphony, and the hosanna creates a sense of many multiple lines, with some rhapsodic moments on the organ. The following 'Benedictus' is quiet and mystical with a feeling of angular chant in the vocal lines. The concluding 'Agnus Dei' is delicate but with angular vocal lines, yet it springs to life in the final 'Dona nobis pacem'.  Throughout the work, Anderson combines dissonant harmonies with some remarkably inventive modern polyphonic textures.

The anthem O sing unto the Lord is the earliest piece on the disc, dating from 1999 and was written for Westminster Cathedral Choir. It uses quite a dense texture with complex and often dissonant harmony, and complex rhythms yet still radiates sheer joy. I saw eternity, written for the London Philharmonic Choir (Anderson was composer in residence with the London Philharmonic Orchestra), uses angular vocal lines woven into lovely clear textures, to intense effect.

Anderson's Four American Choruses uses gospel hymn texts and whilst the music is all Anderson's own, he evokes something of the original flavour of the hymns which come from Moody and Sankey's. From the outside, these four are simpler but Anderson's complex language is still there underneath. The four are published as a set but have independent lives, though there is a commonality about Anderson's approach, with the apparent simplicity being offset by occasionally complex textures and the final chorus including some strikingly rapturous moments.

Before the final item on the disc, as a short contrasting interlude, Geoffrey Webber plays Frescobaldi's Toccata quarte per l'organo da sonars all levatione. The final item on the disc is Anderson's Nunc Dimittis, the most recent work on the disc which was written for the present performers in 2017. It uses complex sustained textures as a backdrop for rhapsodic solos, reaching an astonishing climax before declining into quiet.

For those who known Anderson mainly by his orchestral music, this disc will perhaps be something of a revelation. His choral music is not easy, full of complex lines, dissonant harmonies and tricky textures, yet Geoffrey Webber and the choir of Gonville and Caius College sing it was an admirable freedom and naturalness.

Julian Anderson (born 1967) - My beloved spake (2006)
Julian Anderson - Bell Mass (2010)
Julian Anderson - O sing unto the Lord (1999)
Julian Anderson - I saw eternity (2003)
Julian Anderson - Four American Choruses (2002-3)
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) - Toccata quarta (1627)
Julian Anderson - Nunc dimittis (2017)
Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge
Luke Fitzgerald (organ)
Michael How (organ)
Geoffrey Webber (director & organ)
Recorded 2-4 July 2017 in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford
DELPHIAN DCD34202 1CD [61.54]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Grand rarity: Halevy's La reine de Chypre revealed by Palazzeto Bru Zane (★★★★) - CD review
  • The Grand Manner - Aprile Millo's London debut recital at the Cadogan Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  • Songs of Farewell - BBC Singers and Sakari Oramo at the Proms (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Bayreuth’s Tristan und Isolde was grand and convincing in every conceivable way harbouring a sting in its tail (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Keeping her secrets: Tom Randle's Love Me To Death explores the mysterious Ruth Ellis (★★★★)  - Opera review
  • The Opera That Goes Wrong: Tête à Tête's Toscatastrophe!  - Opera review
  • Bayreuth’s Parsifal provided a sensitive portrayal of humanity overcoming adversity (★★★★★)  - Opera review
  • As important as ever: Opera Rara's mission to rediscover, record and perform rare opera  - interview
  • Hubert Parry - the complete string quartets (★★★)  - CD review
  • Out of the mouths of babes: Metta Theatre at Tête à Tête (★★★)  - Opera review
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  • Bayreuth’s new production of Lohengrin has taken the Green Hill by storm (★★★★★) - opera review
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