Mother and Child


Signum Records is delighted to announce  the release of Tenebrae’s second disc, Mother and Child

Tenebrae has, in its short existence, made a considerable impact with fresh and vital re-interpretations of classic works in the choral repertoire. On this new recording, innovatory and lesser-known repertoire is drawn from contemporary sources, reflecting an exploratory approach which places the group artistically at the cutting edge.

This is a distinctive and distinguished collection of works by a number of living composers, many of whom have established themselves at the creative forefront of the choral scene in recent times.

Five of the tracks are world premier recordings:

    Francis Pott: The souls of the righteous
    Sir John Tavener: Mother and Child
    Alexander L’Estrange: Lute-book lullaby
    Jeremy Filsell: O be joyful in the Lord
    Francis Pott: My song is love unknown

The centre-piece of the disc is a new commission – Mother and Child – by Tenebrae from the world acclaimed composer Sir John Taverner.

The universal aspect of motherhood is an idea to which Tavener has returned again and again in his music. Behind this concept lies that of infinite theophanic light, an idea common to all religious traditions. Tavener’s music here interpolates a poem by Brian Keeble with Greek and Sanskrit quotations, the latter in a climactic outburst. The music, having grown in crescendo, is joined by massive organ chords and develops to become an overwhelming pulsating texture at the climax, with awesome strokes sounded on a large Hindu temple gong. The clamour dissipates at the final invocation, ‘Hail Maria’, which is prayerful and contemplative.

Click here to see a video clip (six and a half minutes) of Sir John Taverner and Tenebrae’s director, Nigel Short, talking about Mother and Child (3.7Meg).

Click here to hear a sample from Mother and Child (1.1Meg).


What people are saying

a very classy piece of singing …. and a remarkable range of colours thanks to the mixture of voices. There’s that post-collegiate professionalism plus operatic "heft" when required.  … one of the best sounding CDs I have had on the desk this week.

BBC Radio 3 – CD Review – 21st June 2003

    "This is a CD of exceptional stature. It seems to me that everything about it – performances, documentation, sound quality and, above all, the music itself – is of the highest quality"

John Quinn – Music Web – August 2003

        "… a highly dramatic work … making the fullest use of  the choral resources available and with a very challenging organ part superbly played by Jeremy Filsell"

International Record Review

        "Pott’s impassioned My Song is Love Unknown stands out as a small masterpiece of choral writing"

Classical News

        "terrific choral music … exciting, engaging, imaginative, inspired, even revelatory performances of English choral works written within the last 10 or 15 years … engineering is ideal, capturing the fullness of the space without sacrificing detail or balance … This is a wonderful disc, a program that all choral lovers should hear, not least because it gives proof that very fine sacred choral music is still being written–and given the first-rate attention it deserves by world-class performers"

directed by Nigel Short
Organ: Jeremy Filsell

Release date:6th Jun 2003
Order code:SIGCD501
Barcode: 635212052125

International Record Review – August 2003

Though Tavener’s Mother and Child is what is mentioned on the disc’s cover, that work occupies only a small part of what is a highly varied and adventurous anthology. It begins with Jonathan Dove’s Seek Him that Maketh the Seven Stars, an effective work more memorable because of its textural effects and organ filigree than for strictly vocal reasons (although the reiterated ‘Seek Him’ chord suggests and Anglican-Poulenc hybrid).

Francis Pott’s two works show an altogether different category of mind. The Souls of the Righteous is a conscious recreation of the ambience of Byrd’s Justorum Animae but with, of course, a greatly expanded harmonic palette, making very effective use of Tenebrae’s blended but powerful sound. At over nine minutes, it’s not short, but My Song is Love Unknown is really a cantata at 17’31”. It is a highly dramatic work, slowly expanding over a large scale, making the fullest use of  the choral resources available and with a very challenging organ part (superbly played by Jeremy Filsell). I am not sure that I have yet detected Pott’s own voice in his music, but I am very much aware of a tremendous musical mind – definitely worth hearing.

Ivan Moody

Classical News – June 2003

Tenebrae’s second album rolls out on Signum’s newly-created label for contemporary works, delivering a world premiere recording for Tavener’s eloquent anthem Mother and Child and first outings on disc for works by Francis Pott, Alexander L’Estrange and Jeremy Filsell. Pott’s impassioned My Song is Love Unknown stands out as a small masterpiece of choral writing, expertly done by Tenebrae’s carefully-chosen team of professional singers and multi-talented organist Filsell.

Andrew Stewart

Classic FM Magazine (Modern Choral Works)

On the evidence of this album, Tenebrae’s fan-base deserves to extend to anyone inspired by excellent choral singing. The professional chamber choir’s second disc on Signum’s new contemporary label contains world-premiere recordings of works by Francis Pott, Alexander L’Estrange and Jeremy Filsell. Tavener’s Mother and Child has about it the appealing artlessness of his finest choral works, while Pott’s  My Song is Love Unknown emerges as a miniature masterpiece.

Andrew Stewart

BBC Music Magazine – August 2003

Well known for exploring the Renaissance repertoire from intriguing thematic viewpoints, Signum turns to recent choral music with a collection that draws its title from a new Tenebrae-commissioned Tavener score, but is no less appealing for its mix of work by other contemporary choral composers. From among the other more outgoing items in this well-balanced collection, its energy is matched only by the brightness of Jonathan Dove’s Seek Him that Maketh the Seven Stars and Jeremy Filsell’s appropriately Anglican setting of the Jubilate.

Of the more contemplative numbers, the floating, bitter-sweet airs of Alexander L’Estrange’s Lute Book Lullaby conceal some tricky discords, sung by Tenebrae with the same assurance that it brings to the more blended astringencies of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Donne-inspired The Seasons of His Mercies.

Tavener’s effort is a pleasing 12-minute Marian ‘icon’. Altogether more challenging is Francis Pott’s My Song is Love Unknown, in which the verbal felicities of Crossman’s poem, familiar in John Ireland’s metrical setting, take second place to a powerfully dramatic and extended treatment of the text.

Nicholas Williams 
Artistic quality 10, Sound quality 9

There’s some terrific choral music on this disc! Beginning with Jonathan Dove’s (b. 1959) ‘Seek him that maketh the seven stars’, listeners are in for an hour of (mostly) exciting, engaging, imaginative, inspired, even revelatory performances of English choral works written within the last 10 or 15 years. The professional vocal ensemble Tenebrae (whose concerts feature candlelight and choreography) is completely in command of these often difficult scores, and the engineering is ideal, capturing the fullness of the space (Temple Church, London) without sacrificing detail or balance–especially impressive in the pieces with choir and organ.

Dove’s piece–one of the choir/organ selections–is an ear-pleasing marvel of color, catchy rhythmic effects, and delightfully scaled organ ostinatos, the work of a significant and highly accomplished composer who deserves wide attention. Another in this category is Francis Pott (b. 1957), who contributes two of the disc’s more substantial works, The souls of the righteous and My song is love unknown, the latter a nearly 18-minute, highly dramatic setting of Samuel Crossman’s poem (which even begins with a nod to Richard Strauss’ Death and transfiguration). Giles Swayne’s version of the Magnificat (which has received attention on previous recordings) is the most wild and oddly effective ever conceived–a double-choir setting that somehow combines the familiar Latin text with "Zulu warrior chant" and jerky repeated rhythmic patterns that soon draw you into their infectious dance.

Alexander L’Estrange (who’s also active as a singer and jazz bassist!) contributes a unique and very affecting take on the oft-set Lute-book lullaby text. Organist/composer Jeremy Filsell’s O be joyful in the Lord is a relentless, high-energy tour de force (not unexpectedly with a significant organ part) that doesn’t let up for its entire two minutes and 16 seconds–ending with a voice busting super-fortissimo blast. Richard Rodney Bennett adds a beautiful, mostly serene setting of a John Donne meditation whose harmonically rich choral texture is broken by a lovely, brief tenor solo at its center and near the end. Tavener’s Mother and child, commissioned by Tenebrae in 2003, sits in the middle of the program–and it’s the only point of boredom. It’s basically an exercise in interminable chord progressions that might have been interesting had it been more honestly scaled to the real worth of the musical ideas–say, three minutes instead of nearly 13. The intrusion of a "large Hindu temple gong" toward the work’s end sounds more like a gimmick–but undoubtedly I’m just missing some profound message that others will easily grasp. No matter. This is a wonderful disc, a program that all choral lovers should hear, not least because it gives proof that very fine sacred choral music is still being written–and given the first-rate attention it deserves by world-class performers.

David Vernier

BBC Radio 3 – CD Review – 21st June 2003

Speaking of heavenly length ….. [extract of opening] ….. the opening of a work written for the choir you just heard performing it and that’s its first recording. The piece is Mother and Child and in case you haven’t guessed, its the 13 minute piece by John Taverner which by his standards makes it a miniature I suppose. And its a very classy piece of singing by Tenebrae conducted by Nigel Short an ensemble with enviable standards of power and precision and a remarkable range of colours thanks to the mixture of voices. There’s that post-collegiate professionalism plus operatic "heft" when required. The new Taverner work is glorious and there are four more first recordings among the eight contemporary pieces including a beautiful anthem by Jonathan Dove – Seek him that maketh the seven stars. I am very impressed with this! Mother and Child is also the title you’ll find on the spine, the choir’s called Tenebrae, the label is Signum. Well that’s one of the best sounding CDs I have had on the desk this week.

Andrew McGregor

Music Web – August 2003

This is a CD of exceptional stature. It seems to me that everything about it – performances, documentation, sound quality and, above all, the music itself – is of the highest quality. In particular, I rejoice to find that so much of the contents of this programme is either church music or music which has a religious impulse behind it. Those who, like me, often despair at the quality of so much contemporary church music can take heart! With one exception the pieces here were new to me. They are deserving of the widest possible audience so all credit to Signum for recording them.

Tenebrae is a mixed chamber choir of professional singers founded by Nigel Short, the singer, conductor and composer who, inter alia was a member of The King’s Singers between 1994 and 2001. For this recording the choir comprised 8 sopranos, 8 altos (four male, four female) and 7 each of tenors and basses. This is clearly an expert ensemble. Throughout this disc, despite the rigorous demands of the various composers, balance, intonation, tuning and dynamic control are absolutely flawless. They sing a truly demanding programme and the music is challenging in every sense but is of such quality that it must all be extremely rewarding to sing. The choir’s motto is "Passion and Precision" and they certainly live up to it here.

The opening work by Jonathan Dove gives an excellent foretaste of what is to come. The main melodic idea I can best describe as broad and aspiring. It is atmospherically underpinned by an ostinato-like organ accompaniment. Its appearances are punctuated by a "pleading" two-note motif, to the words "Seek him", which is most effective. For the most part the music moves (or floats) quite slowly though later on it begins to dance and at 4’40" the jagged rhythms for "seek him" reminded me momentarily of John Adams. The work ends serenely.

I’ve heard Giles Swayne’s Magnificat several times, both live and on CD and I’m bound to say that my reactions to it have hitherto been somewhat cool. However, heard here in the context of other contemporary pieces it makes a much stronger effect. I think it helps also that it provides a (necessary) lively contrast in a programme which includes several more contemplative pieces. Tenebrae’s singing is, as ever, exemplary. The rhythms, so important in this work, are crisply delivered and the several strands of choral texture are all crystal clear.

The work by Tavener from which the album takes its title is brand new. Indeed, the piece, commissioned by Tenebrae, was due to receive its première at the Salisbury Festival on 6 June 2003. In this piece Tavener celebrates motherhood and especially the motherhood of the Virgin Mary. Much of the setting comprises gravely beautiful and rich choral harmonies. When the organ makes its first appearance, at 8’00", I was reminded of the great coup de théâtre at the end of Tavener’s God is with us, except that here the organ accompanies the singers. In this latest piece the dramatic stroke is the introduction of a Hindu temple gong (track 4, 10’29"). I’m an admirer of Tavener’s music though I find his most effective compositions to be those on a fairly modest scale, especially as regards length. I strongly suspect Mother and Child may well turn out to be another highly successful piece. It certainly impressed me.

The short work by Alexander L’Estrange that follows the Tavener is a gentle and effective piece, much of which is underpinned by undulating figures for the lower voices (the rocking of the cradle). Superficially it sounds a simple piece but it’s not. The surface simplicity conceals musical complexity and a short piece of some worth and substance. L’Estrange, by the way, is a member of Tenebrae though he’s not listed as a participant in this recording.

Is there anything Jeremy Filsell can’t do? Not content with being a virtuoso organist, especially renowned for his recorded intégrale of the music of Marcel Dupré, he is also a noted pianist. In his "spare time" he sings alto in Tenebrae and he composes. His setting of the Jubilate (Psalm 100), included here, is exuberant and vital and includes a most effective organ part (played by the composer, of course). It’s not entirely clear from the notes but I wonder if this setting is part of the morning and evening canticles that Filsell wrote for the Choir of St, George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in 2001? The joyous concluding ‘Glory be’ (track 6, 1’22") is very representative of the piece as a whole.

The male voices of Tenebrae perform Richard Rodney Bennett’s piece. It is taken from a larger work, Sermons and Devotions that Bennett wrote for the 25th anniversary of The King’s Singers (in 1993, I believe). It is a fine and evocative setting of words by the seventeenth century English priest and poet, John Donne. I can do no better than quote Jeremy Filsell’s description in the notes: "The bittersweet harmony within slow-moving lines compellingly conjures the poetic intimacy of the text." In the middle of the work there is a wide-ranging solo for tenor, which is excellently sung by Andrew Busher.

The longest and most discursive piece on the programme is My song is love unknown by Francis Pott. It’s a setting of Samuel Crossman’s famous hymn text but John Ireland’s celebrated (and excellent) tune seems light years away. Pott’s work is closer to being a miniature cantata and, indeed, he suggests in his note that he might well orchestrate the organ accompaniment one day. As it is, Jeremy Filsell plays the huge part as if he were a one-man orchestra.

It’s a very strong and atmospheric work, at the heart of which lies the essential conflicting paradox of Palm Sunday. Pott pits the cries of "Hosanna" from the crowds welcoming Christ into Jerusalem that day against the mob’s subsequent cries of "Crucify". Inevitably, it is the latter cry, which wins the day after a bitingly dramatic musical conflict, akin to the collision of harmonic tectonic plates. The whole is built to a searing, titanic climax (from 8’02") before we hear a superbly wrought polyphonic choral passage of great complexity and rich texture. Eventually the piece subsides but even just before the end ominous rumblings of "crucify" are heard again before the final, exhausted "Amen".

It seems to me that Pott has produced a magnificent and disturbing work. As befits its subject it is certainly not an easy listen but it is most thought-provoking and rewarding. It sounds as if it presents formidable technical challenges to the performers but all such difficulties are triumphantly surmounted here. Indeed, it seems almost inconceivable that the work could receive a finer performance than this present one.

I have, however, deliberately left to last the piece which has made the greatest impact on me. This is the other offering from Francis Pott, The souls of the righteous, for which he has taken as his text those wonderful, moving words from the Book of Wisdom, "The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God." Pott has perfectly realised the serenity, dignity and consolation conveyed in these lines and has constructed a truly beautiful piece of choral music. The work opens in a mood of quiet serenity. Eventually, from the radiant choral harmonies a marvellous, soaring tenor solo emerges (track 2, 3’58"). The soloist repeats the entire text while the choir weaves a gorgeous, quiet tapestry of sound round the lovely line given to the tenor. (William Kendall is most affecting as the soloist). Pott sustains the mood of subdued ecstasy right though to the seraphic concluding "Amen". This, it seems to me, is an exceptional piece and it is exceptionally well performed by Tenebrae. I would imagine that the gentleman who commissioned it in memory of his late wife must have been intensely moved on hearing the result of his commission for the first time. I certainly found listening to it a most affecting experience.

This is an outstanding release in every way. Not only are the music and the performances superb, but also the engineers have captured the results in magnificent, clear and natural sound. In addition there are excellent notes by Jeremy Filsell (and, in the case of My song is love unknown, by Francis Pott.) These notes and all the texts are provided in English, French and German.

Even now, only half way through 2003 I feel certain that this most distinguished CD will be one of my Recordings of the Year – indeed, quite possibly the recording of the year. I hope I have conveyed adequately my enthusiasm for it. If you care about choral music, and especially about church music then I urge you to add this disc to your collection without delay.

Recommended with the greatest possible enthusiasm.

John Quinn


May I add a brief postscript to my review of Tenebrae’s exceptional CD?

A few nights ago I was fortunate enough to attend a concert given by Nigel Short and Tenebrae in Tewkesbury Abbey, a large and glorious medieval church in Gloucestershire. The concert was part of the Cheltenham International Festival. The programme included two of the items on the CD, the Swayne Magnificat and John Tavener’s Mother and Child. The remaining items ranged from plainchant to 20th century English music.

All I can say is that the live performance was fully up to the tremendous standards of the CD. The perfect tuning, balance and tonal control evident on the CD were all in abundant evidence during the concert (the entire first half of which was also sung from memory!).

I know that often one wonders how "artificial" a CD may be and how many edits and retakes have been combined to produce the finished product. In this particular case, based on what I saw and heard at Tewkesbury I am confident that this CD is a wholly accurate representation of the choir live. "What you hear is what you get".

Hearing this excellent choir live enables me to recommend their disc even more strongly.

John Quinn

Choir & Organ, September/ October 2003


Although newly-formed, Tenebrae’s singers come from the top choral groups and the opera house. This enables Nigel Short to have an enviable variety of vocal colour to call upon., which he does to great effect. Sacred music by living composers produces an innovative choice of reportoire. Receiving first recording performances are Francis Pott’s The souls of the righteous and My song is love unknown, Taverner’s Mother and Child, Alexander L’Estranges’s Lute-book lullaby and Jeremy Filsell’s O be joyful in the Lord. The remainder of the disc contains pieces by Giles Swayne, Jonathan Dove and Richard Rodney Bennett. Interesting music, beautifully sung – what more could you want?

  1. Seek him that maketh the seven stars – Jonathan Dove – [6:28]
  2. The souls of the righteous – Francis Pott – [9:34]
  3. Magnificat – Giles Swayne – [4:05]
  4. Mother and Child – Sir John Tavener – [12:44]
  5. Lute-book lullaby – Alexander L?Estrange – [4:17]
  6. O be joyful in the Lord – Jeremy Filsell – [2:16]
  7. The seasons of his mercies – Richard Rodney Bennett – [6:23]
  8. My song is love unknown – Francis Pott – [17:31]