"Although this won’t be for everyone, the music on this program offers an unusual opportunity to hear what some of today’s most capable and interesting choral composers are up to. Many of the works were written within the last five or six years, and in keeping with the "theme" of the program, each of the new compositions has some connection to medieval forms and styles, be it structural, harmonic, melodic, textual, or some combination. And while these connections are plain to the ear, ultimately the compositional techniques--the harmonic language in particular--are decidedly modern, so that even the completely tonal works indulge heavily in dissonance, cluster effects, complex rhythms within and among voices, and textural and timbral devices that both exploit and push the boundaries of vocal/choral technique.
There’s nothing strikingly innovative here, but there are some engaging and memorable pieces, beginning with Judith Weir’s All the Ends of the Earth, a remarkable study in color and texture based on an early 13th-century organum by Perotin that somehow conveys an atmosphere of distant time and place and mystic, celebratory ritual. Likewise Bayan Northcott’s Salve Regina arises directly from medieval chant yet unfolds in a weirdly twisted melodic direction, controlled by quirky rhythms and set to stark harmony just short of grotesque. Another highlight is Gabriel Jackson’s Thomas, Jewel of Canterbury, a setting of a text from a 14th-century composition that uses a wide variety of choral effects and fancy rhythmic embellishments, along with drones and slides, to meld the ancient with modern.
The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge is impressively at home in this consummately difficult repertoire, making as good a case for both the original medieval works and the modern ones as we could wish for. Even better is how the choir brings these centuries-apart works together into a coherent and sensible program. I may not be putting this into my CD player that often, but I’m happy to have heard it and certainly will remember the music in future encounters with such ever-intriguing composers such as Judith Weir, Robin Holloway, and Gabriel Jackson."
"The fashion for programming medieval music with contemporary pieces continues with this recording from the Oxbridge college with arguably the best female top line. One or two surprisingly mature voices step out for solos from this young choir, and the blend and tuning are generally of a very high standard. My only grumble with this technically accomplished disc is the lack of emotional involvement with the notes on the page, that often leads these two traditionally impenetrable musical periods to be grouped together." ***
Choir and Organ
"This fine disc, which spans a millennium of choral composition, intensifies the shock of the old and the beauty of the new. Works by long-dead Englishmen interlock here with pristine a cappella miniatures by eight living Brits, clearly rehearsed to perfection by Geoffrey Webber and sensitively performed by his young Cambridge choristers. Judith Weir’s All the Ends of the Earth and Bayan Northcott’s two motets, for example, present strikingly different, yet successful contemporary ’neo-medieval’ approaches. Fascinating stuff." ***
Classic FM Magazine
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