The Times, 22nd March 2008, ****
The mixed choir of Royal Holloway College makes a truly fabulous sound under the direction of Rupert Gough. The title track, a setting of the well-known Communion text by Gabriel Jackson, is a serene vehicle for these beautifully pure voices. The soprano line in particular is a blemishless thread. The basses are nimble: few ever manage the "thundering" in Weelkes’s Alleluia with such precision. The choir is coolly contemporary in Pärt’s Magnificat, romantically heroic in Bruckner’s Christus Factus, and breathtakingly expressive in Weelkes’s When David Heard.
Gramophone, May 2008
What more can one possibly ask for? Here is a choir of 23 young singers, fresh of tone and fresh of mind, careful and accurate over their notes yet giving the impression that it all comes naturally. Collectively they have a keen feeling for rhythm. They enunciate clearly but without making a point of it. They blend perfectly, they shade sensitively, they appear to work with like mind towards an agreed ideal of choral sound.
And their programme strikes a fair balance of old and new, the familiar and unexpected. Personally, I find that too much is slow (the old formula of "quick-slow-quick" is not a bad one for programme-builders, and here the proportions are reversed). But these are the very people to commend Arvo Pärt to the opposition, and certainly his mystical, almost penitential Magnificat has an unusually thoughtful beauty about it. With the entry of the organ in the wedding anthem by Robert Walker the swimmingly tinted ecstasies of a latter-day Duruflé are delivered without overmuch indulgence. On the other hand, how good it is to be woken up from these incense-laden reveries by Stanford’s purposeful Matins freshness, in firmly committed B flat!
But no: no real quarrel with any of this. Only a mild complaint that it’s over too quickly. Forty-seven minutes is distinctly short measure: another 10 at least.
MusicWeb International, May 2008
Never has a description of a CD of choral music been more apposite than this one ‘A Feast of Music’ – from The Choir of Royal Holloway University of London. But this is better than a feast for that word perhaps has overtones of over-indulgence. This is a perfectly balanced meal that will leave the listener totally satisfied and anxious for another visit to the restaurant! The programme is superb, covering a wide range of ecclesiastical music from Estonia, Spain, Austria, and the British Isles. The batting order is not quite chronological, although the first four tracks comprise early liturgical music and the latter part of the CD explores the twentieth century. Only the somewhat symphonic Christus Factus Est by Anton Bruckner spoils the ‘concept’, as this piece was composed in 1884.
The CD begins with four superb examples of sixteenth/seventeenth church music. Interestingly the William Byrd piece, Cibavit Est was actually banned after it was published in 1605, due to its Catholic theological content. It is a near perfect setting of the Proper for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Personally, Victoria has always had the edge over Palestrina in my mind, yet the present piece, O magnum mysterium does nod in the Italian’s direction. Thomas Weelkes is honoured with two motets, Alleluia I heard a Voice and When David heard, both written after 1608 when the composer had turned from things secular to those sacred. I cannot help feeling that the secular side of his art never quite disappeared, if these motets are anything to judge by.
Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat is the heart of this CD being, perhaps, the most demanding of the works and also the longest at just over eight minutes. I admit to not having ‘got into’ Pärt’s music, but feel that this stunningly beautiful and moving offering to Our Lady is an excellent starting point. It is probably hackneyed to say this, but he seems able to balance tradition with modernity: this belongs to a world of slippery time. This is possibly the most heartfelt work on this CD. I have often felt that some liturgical music can do more to fill people’s minds with a spirit of religion that that of a dozen pontificating Archbishops and this is one of those pieces.
The Holst Nunc Dimittis, if played ‘blind’, would probably not be attributed to him. There is little to suggest 20th century Hammersmith – but a lot of influence from Palestrina and Gabrielli. The programme notes point out the huge influence of Richard Terry and the Choir of Westminster Cathedral on the minds of many composers in the first twenty years of the century with the rediscovery of early liturgical music. I do not know if Holst wrote a ‘mag’ to go with this ‘nunc dim’? I guess another work that seriously impressed me on this disc is the O sacrum convivium by Gabriel Jackson. This both harks back to earlier models and looks to the music of Pärt. The programme notes point out that as this motet was commissioned by the combined choirs of Portsmouth and Guildford Cathedrals, it was possible to ‘take advantage of the potentially massive resultant sonority by dividing the score, at some moments, into ten parts.’ This music has poise and balance that reflects the text: ‘O sacred banquets at which Christ is received’.
The Irish-born Charles Wood’s Nunc Dimittis is one of the composer’s classic choral works that perhaps reveals his debt to the music of his teacher Stanford. Yet there is a unique quality about this music that is totally personal and is beholden to no teacher. As an aside, I believe it is high time we reappraised Wood’s ‘non-church’ music. Robert Walker’s accompanied anthem dates from 1982. It was written for his nephew’s wedding and, perhaps predictably, sets some words from one of the most poetic books in the Bible: The Song of Solomon. This is a good setting of these familiar words with a particularly interesting working of the ‘My beloved spake, and said unto me, rise up, my love, my fair one, come away.’ It achieves the mystery of these words, on the one hand a literal offer from the groom to his bride and more mystically, that of Christ’s promise to the faithful. Truly beautiful.
Proceedings are brought to a close with Stanford’s superb Easter anthem, Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem. This is a sound that typically epitomises the Anglican cathedral sound. It is an adroit way to close this fine concert. The singing is great, the sound quality perfect and the programme notes are well written and informative. Alas it is a very short CD, only some 47 minutes worth of music. I look forward to more offerings from this impressive, competent and obviously committed choir and from Rupert Gough their director.
Choir & Organ, July/ August 2008
The Choir of Royal Holloway is at its best in the pianissimo sections of this disc, where it demonstrates a purity of sound that makes you sit up and listen. Weelke’s When David Heard and Gabriel Jackson’s O sacrum convivium are served particularly well here. Elsewhere, the tuning wavers occasionally, particularly in Part’s difficult Magnificat (sung too quickly). But this disc is enjoyable, with a good range of old favourites and a number of pieces that deserve to be more widely sung.