The Temple Church Choir gives the world premiere recording of Nico Muhly’s Our present charter – a brand new four-movement work commissioned by the choir to celebrate 800 years since the sealing of the Magna Carta. Directed by Roger Sayer and featuring organist Greg Morris, the recording also features choral works by Parry, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Bairstow, Tavener and Haydn.
A Knight’s Progress
What people are saying
"5* – Sensitive interpretations enhance the excellence of the singing…Highly Reccomended." Choir & Organ, July 2015
"4* – Under their new director Roger Sayer the choir is obviously on strong form … they make a goodly noise. The disc is worth acquiring for Nico Muhly’s new work, but the surrounding pieces do not disappoint, particularly Walton’s The Twelve which is not exactly common on disc." Planet Hugill, March 2015
"…rapturous clouds of sound rise with solo voices weaving around dense, beautifully blended choral sonorities. These…superb recordings serve as sonorous reminders of the British choral tradition and its vibrant contemporary life." Opera News, July 2015
The Temple Church Choir
Greg Morris organ
Roger Sayer director
Release date:9th Feb 2015
STAR REVIEW Central to this programme is the world premiere recording of Nico Muhly’s ‘Our present charter’, commissioned for the Choir of the Temple Church to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. The text consists of words from the Magna Carta together with unique settings of ‘Thy Kingdom Come, O God’ and the Beatitudes. By its very nature the text is partly narrative, and this young American composer displays a refreshingly original approach to his writing.
Sitting alongside Muhly’s piece is Walton’s ‘The Twelve’ written for the Fest of the Apostles, again with a partly narrative text by W.H.Auden. Full of Waltonian flair and invention, Auden’s penetrating words are given a powerful interpretation by this fine choir under Roger Sayer. Joining this narrative group of works is VW’s ‘Valiant-for-Truth’. Sensitive interpretations enhance the excellence of the singing throughout this testing programme, which displays a group of choir soloists who never falter. Tavener’s mysticism in music brings a moment of quiet reflection and the disc ends with Haydn’s joyous ‘Te Deum in C’, the choir sounding as if they are also enjoying every minute of it. Highly Recommended
Choir & Organ, Shirley Ratcliffe
The program booklet for A Knight’s Progress finds connections between the important twentieth-century choral works by Hubert Parry, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Edward Bairstow presented, but also ropes in Haydn’s Te Deumin C Major, John Tavener’s “Mother of God, here I stand” and a newly commissioned cycle by Nico Muhly. Connections include pieces that influenced other compositions, music by teachers and pupils, and works heard at the 1953 Coronation of the present Queen of England. Parry, composer of “I was glad,” which opens the disc in a stirring, sonorously confident reading, credited Haydn with bringing a fresh and straightforward compositional style to England in the 1790s, and the briskly energetic performance of his Te Deum, heard here with organ accompaniment, bears this out.
Walton’s powerful work, “The Twelve,” sets words by W. H. Auden in a sophisticated and well-crafted, yet accessible style, and trebles Oscar Simms and Benedict Davies detail the solo lines of “O Lord, my God” with warm tone and delicious phrasing. The choir handles the fugues, especially “Twelve as the winds” with consummate virtuosity, while Tavener’s syllabic motet showcases their lovely blended sonority.
Muhly’s seventeen-minute cycle, Our present Charter, receiving its world premiere recording here, was commissioned by the Choir of Temple Church to celebrate the eight-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta on June 15, 2015. The choir, under director Roger Sayer, gave the first performance in December 2014, while the fourth movement had been performed in November at the Library of Congress to accompany an exhibition, Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor. The document’s iconic status in granting of civil liberties and guaranteeing access to justice is based more on perception than actual content, though its influence is felt in Great Britain as well as in both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
The first movement of Our present Charter begins with a humorous take on the document’s opening, “First, we have granted to God …” with stuttering repetitions of the word “first” before an initially hesitant, then lyrical reading of the charter’s first paragraph in a simple, chordal setting. One phrase sung by unison trebles emphasizes the individual rights protected in the charter. For the second movement, Muhly parses out Lewis Hensley’s 1867 hymn text, “Thy Kingdom Come, O God,” between soloists (alto William Towers is a stand-out), with the chorus and organ echoing and shadowing certain words in murmuring tone clusters. The final verse receives a fervent, communal hymn-style setting, with treble descants hovering and soaring ecstatically above the tune at its repeat. For a setting of The Beatitudes, Muhly returns to the repetitive style of the work’s opening, setting the word “Blessed” obsessively as the organ fidgets with little units in a web-like texture. The Biblical text (from Matthew 5. 3-9) begins to emerge simply, with the word “Blessed” continuing to bounce around the fabric, until the phrase “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” is highlighted is sonorous simplicity. The repetitive rhythmic units reappear at the opening of the fourth movement, an a cappella setting of another fragment of the Magna Carta. After the legal text is sung, the voices begin to chatter individually in random rhythms before the final line “To no one will we refuse or delay right or justice” emerges clearly and confidently.
Another of Muhly’s new choral works, a setting of George Herbert’s “Let all the world in every corner sing” for chorus, organ and cello, receives its first recording on Ascendit Deus, a CD of music for Ascension and Pentecost by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, under the direction of Graham Ross. From an ecstatic and rapturous opening, the solo cello offers comments and questions to the lyrical choral utterances in Muhly’s homophonic setting, eventually stuttering and giving way to the organ. The four and a half minute piece leaves a sweet, sunny afterglow.
Other world premiere recordings from Clare College Choir include an expanded orchestral arrangement of Patrick Gowers’ ethereal, ecstatic “Viri Galilaei” and the eerie “Was it a voice?” Brett Dean’s setting of a mystical poem by Graeme William Ellis relating the mysteries of Christ’s Ascension to the suffering of His Passion. Solo voices emerge from the dense, atonal choral texture with poignant immediacy and the music ascends, not without struggle, to its conclusion, “Solace / The unheard Final / Rising.” The group’s director, Ross, cleverly constructs his own composition, “Ascendo ad Patrem meum,” for chorus, soloists and saxophone, with material from Thomas Tallis’s beloved motet, “If ye love me,” while Giles Swayne’s “God is gone up (A Song for the Ascension),” treats the Ascension event as a dramatic scene, with text in English, Latin and Greek moving from grief and loss to understanding and joy at the significance of the moment.
Older pieces include Judith Weir’s 1983 “Ascending into Heaven,” which sets a medieval text skillfully and powerfully, and Jonathan Harvey’s “Come, Holy Ghost,” where rapturous clouds of sound rise with solo voices weaving around dense, beautifully blended choral sonorities.
These two superb recordings serve as sonorous reminders of the British choral tradition and its vibrant contemporary life.
Opera News, Judith Malfronte
The centre-piece of this new disc on Signum Records from the Temple Church Choir and its director Roger Sayer, with organist Greg Morris, is a new commission from Nico Muhly, Our present charter. This is performed with a mixed programme of mainly 20th century music with Hubert Parry’s I was glad, William Walton’s The Twelve, John Tavener’s Mother of God, here I stand, RVW’s Valiant for Truth, Edward Bairstow’s Blessed City, heavenly Salem and Franz Josef Haydn’s Te Deum in C major.
For some reason the disc is entitled, A Knight’s Progress. The article in the CD booklet does not quite illuminate the reasons for this but I presume it is linked to the fact that the Muhly piece was written to celebrate the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and three of the witnesses to the sealing of the charter are buried in the church.
Sayer, Morris and the choir open with a strong performance of Parry’s I was glad, the choir well supported by the recently restored organ. The choir makes a good, firm rich sound with an admirable clarity in the resonant acoustic. There is a hint that the performance loses focus a little in the quieter section but this is a finely confident opening to the recital.
William Walton’s The Twelve sets a text by WH Auden. The work was written for Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford where Walton himself had been a chorister. It was premiered in 1963 and the event is described in his autobiography by Tom Driburg who was also there. Walton regarded Auden’s words as ‘somewhat obscure and difficult-to-set’. Certainly Auden’s text did not evoke from Walton the easy fluency that his texts did from Britten, so like other of Walton’s late choral music such as the Cantico del Sole, the style is rather edgy and Walton’s writing for choir is not without its difficulties. The result is not a comfortable work, with a perhaps deliberate sense of awkwardness to the music, without the melodic freedom of the pre-war works. Walton interleaves solo with choral passages, creating his familiar spiky textures. The choir gives an incisive and confident performance, and this really takes of in the final glorious passages which are suitably joyous.
Nico Muhly’s Our present Charter was commissioned for the Choir of the temple Church, Mother-Church of the Common Law, to Celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the Sealing of the Magna Carta on 15 June 1215. The work is in four sections with the texts being various, the charter itself, Lewis Hensley’s hymn They kingdom come, O God, and the Beatitudes. The opening section, setting words from the charter is quiet and well-made with just a hint of edge to the harmony. The second section opens with solos over sustained choral textures, it is thoughtful and rather spare but develops into a big tutti tune. The Beatitudes use fragments of melody over a busy organ, to create a sense of texture rather than melodic interest, developing into something of a toccata with voices. For the last movement, Mulhy sets up a repetitive, minimalist style choral texture with the upper voices and then introduces choral declamation over the top of it, letting this eventually develop into heterophony. Mulhy was himself a chorister and his writing for choir is sympathetic. There is nothing to frighten the horses here, but also a quirky ear. Muhly is able to write intriguingly yet quite directly, so that there is a sense of familiarity but writing with new ears.
John Tavener is a composer with which the choir is very much associated, they gave the premiere of the Veil of the Temple in 2003 and this little gem, Mother of God, here I stand, comes from that work and is given a suitably quiet yet intense performance.
RVW’s Valiant for Truth was written in 1940, it is a testament to the composer’s long-term fascination with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and this stand-alone motet has no links to the composer’s longer works on the subject such as the opera A Pilgrim’s Progress. It here receives a finely idiomatic performance with the singers clearly relishing the good tune that RVW gives them.
Edward Bairstow was born two years after RVW and in 1913 took up the post of organist at York Minster where he remained for the rest of his life. His anthem Blessed City, heavenly Salem was premiered in 1914. It is a finely wrought piece, which does not quite avoid the hints of the hymn which its text implies.
Haydn’s Te Deum in C, his second, dates from 1800 and was probably premiered during Lord Nelson’s visit to Haydn’s employer Prince Nicholas Esterhazy at Eistenstadt. The work uses just choir with no soloists, and on this disc the work explodes with brilliant energy. A crisp organ part starts at some considerable lick, and the choir takes up the challenge giving us a dazzling sequence of words getting through the music at a wonderful rate of knots. It never feels rushed, always musical and so imbued with energy that you can’t help but be carried away. Never has a Te Deum been so toe-tapping.
Under their new director Roger Sayer the choir is obviously on strong form. For this disc, the numbers are clearly stronger than on an ordinary service day, with 17 trebles, 9 altos, 9 tenors and 8 basses and they make a goodly noise. The disc is worth acquiring for Nico Muhly’s new work, but the surrounding pieces do not disappoint, particularly Walton’s The Twelve which is not exactly common on disc.
Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill
- I was glad – Hubert Parry – 4.57
- The Twelve – William Walton – 11.49
- Our Present Charter: I. First – Nico Muhly – 4.02
- Our Present Charter: II. Thy Kingdome Come, O God – Nico Muhly – 4.21
- Our Present Charter: III. The Beatitudes – Nico Muhly – 4.22
- Our Present Charter: IV. Nullus Liber Homo Capiatur – Nico Muhly – 4.45
- Mother of God, here I stand – John Tavener – 2.30
- Valiant-for-Truth – Ralph Vaughan Williams – 5.02
- Blessed City, heavenly Salem – Edward Bairstow – 8.33
- Te Deum in C Major – Franz Joseph Haydn – 8.17