Songs of Angels


Signum Records is delighted to announce that the choir of Magdalen College Oxford will release their first disc with Signum in early 2003. Entitled The Songs of Angels the disc will consist of repertoire written by the distinguished 15th and 16th century Magdalen Informator Choristarum

Click here to see a video of track 9 (1.5 Meg)


What people are saying

"These young choral scholars are an impressive group of musicians"

Jeremy Summerly, BBC Radio 3 CD Review

    Read what reviewers said about Magdalen’s previous performances:

"Hallelujah for Magdalen Choir"

 Trinidad Gazette, September 2001


"PERFECTION. What more can one say, or write, of the Magdalen College Choir?"

Trinidad Newsday, 7 September 2001

          "…a thrilling, perfectly timed performance"

Oxford Times, 26 May 2000

        "Director Bill Ives conducts his forces with an assured sense of balance between parts … adult and boy choristers sing with unerring pitch and fine phrasing", 26 May 2000

Choir of Magdalen College Oxford
directed by Bill Ives

Release date:10th Feb 2003
Order code:SIGCD038
Barcode: 635212003824

Early Music Forum of Scotland News

It is interesting to hear repertoire more familiar in upwardly-transposed renditions by mixed early music ensembles, sung “at pitch” by a full chapel choir. This is undoubtedly how the music would have sounded to its composers, but comparison with the reduced-voice high-pitch equivalents is instructive. The lower pitch leads to a greater warmth, and an increased focus on the middle voices, whereas the Wulstan-ised performances, for the most part up a minor third, largely rely on the incandescence of the stratospheric upper voice parts for effect. Similarly the impact of the dramatic contrast between solo and tutti sections is emphasised in the present performance, using as it does a choir which is twice as big as the standard early music choir. The inner voice parts stand up very well to the resulting scrutiny, but there is also some lovely singing from the boys en masse and the excellent treble soloist in Richard Davey’s Stabat Mater. Side by side with familiar repertoire by Richard Davey and John Sheppard we also have the pleasure of some unfamiliar material by Thomas Preston, John Mason and Thomas Appleby, the latter represented by a powerful setting of the Magnificat.

D James Ross
Artistic quality 9, Sound quality 9

This is a real “hometown team” disc that revolves around music making at Oxford’s Magadalen College. Not only did the college’s choir record this collection at its own chapel, but the repertoire is very much Magdalen’s as well: each piece was written between 1480 and 1560 and was either composed or sung at Magadalen. You may wonder just how many interesting or important works sprang from this source during that relatively brief 80-year span, but this disc proves just how rich the musical life of the church was back then, largely due to the influential musicians who at one point or other served as the school’s Informatores Choristarum (chorister instructors).

By far, the most well-known Magdalen composer was John Sheppard, and a good portion of this album is dedicated to his output (Dum tranisset sabbatum, The Lord’s Prayer, and Libera nos). But even more fascinating is to hear the program’s other material, both for its rarity and also for its demonstration of the aesthetic crossroads of the 16th century. Juxtaposed are pieces of Sarum plainchant, selections by John Mason, Jacquet of Mantua, and Thomas Appleby, as well as John Davy’s stately, polyphonic Stabat mater (which in a disc full of very fine performances particularly stands out, as the 15-minute work demands a high endurance level from the singers). Brief instrumental interludes come in the form of two organ pieces by Thomas Preston.

Director Bill Ives conducts his forces with an assured sense of balance between parts (a performance facet faithfully captured by the audio engineers), and both his adult and boy choristers sing with unerring pitch and fine phrasing. Having said that, this is a disc more for specialist than casual listeners, despite the broad-market appeal of the title “Songs of Angels”. But for lovers of early English choral music, it is quite rewarding.

Anastasia Tsioulacas

Goldberg, Issue 25, December 2003

The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, here present us with a magnificent collection of music written for the College, including some very rarely-heard works by Appleby (whose Magnificat is, I think, somewhat under-rated by David Skinner in his informative booklet notes)., Preston (for organ) and (a surprise!) Jacquet of Mantua. This last figures in the list  through a series of possibilities. What is certain is that Aspice Domine is found in the Peterhouse Partbooks, and it is impossible to rule the work out of court. More likely repertoire is to be found in the great works by Davy and Mason here recorded, as well as the three pieces by Sheppard. The Choir of Magdalen seem entirely at ease witht he ‘Eton style’; in fact,  one is sometimes tempted to find the singing, particularly in the solo verses of the Stabat Mater, too relaxed, until the full choir enters anew to blast Davy’s extraordinary vocal architecture into full-blown life.

On the other hand, Jacquet sounds entirely to their liking too, and Sheppard absolutely second nature. His responsory Dum transisset has always seemed to me the equal of Taverner’s famous setting, and here receives a performance that sounds equally convinced of this. The disc concludes with Sheppard’s first, sublime, setting of Libera nos. A treasurable treasure-trove indeed.

Ivan Moody

Gramophone, June 2003

Naturalness and sincerity are the hallmarks of this enchanting disc

To the sound of a distinctly tolling bell, singing men open this intriguing disc with the medieval Vespers’ Hymn, celebrating the life of St Mary Magdalene. For the next hour and a quarter we are taken to a distant and rarefied world where, within the walls of this glorious Oxford edifice, music in praise of its patron saint has been sung for more than 600 years. Theatricals over – and the bell is a touch of pure aural theatre – it is clear that this is very much a living tradition and not something simply brought out and dusted down for the microphones. After all, the majority of composers represented here were in charge of music at the College at some time or another between 1480 and 1560 (although many seem to have lasted in the job a mere matter of months) and, in that incestuous way of so many historic British choral establishments. Magdalen College ensures its own men retain a place in the choir’s daily repertory.

Like all the finest British collegiate and cathedral choirs, Magdelen has a distinctive sound which owes rather more to the acoustics of the building than to the whims and fancies of any current director (or, in the case of Magdelen, ‘Informator Choristarum’ – Instructor of the Choristers). Magdalen as an acoustic space has a clarity – beautifully captured here – which lends the choir a slightly hard edge but provides the ideal environment for the complex contrapuntal interweavings of the music recorded here. Bill Ives wisely interfaces as little as possible with the choral sound (at the time of this recording he had been Informator Choristarum for 11 years) and as a result there is a sincerity and naturalness about this singing which is enchanting. With fascinating and detailed booklet notes, this is a superb release as much for its historical interest as for the unarguable excellence of the music-making 

Marc Rochester

Early Music America, May 2003

Since the founding of its choir in 1480, Magdalen (pron. MAUD-luhn) College has been one of the key muic centers in Oxford. Set up in pre-Reformation days, when much of the music of the Eton Choirbook was being produced, Magdalen College employed eight singing-men, four chaplains, and 16 choirsers led by the Informator Choristarum (Instructor of the Choristers). Performed by the Cghoirf of Magdalen College, this recording is a survey of music that was either sung at Magdalen or written by Magadalen composers between 1480 and 1560.

The Informator Choristarum position attracted some of the finest composers of the day to Magdalen. Two of the earliest Informatores represented on the recording are Richard Davy (c. 1465-1538) and John Mason (1480-1548). Davy’s large- scale "Stabat mater" receives a fine performance, thanks to the clear articulation and reedy treble voices of the choir, while Mason’s penitential motet, "Quales sumus," unfolds in waves of sonorous polyphony.

If a single composer dominates the program, it is certainly John Sheppard (1515-1558), the difficult-to-handle Informator who held the post from 1543 to 1547. Sheppard’s 2Dum tranisset sabbatum" is tighly constructed with brief sections of imitative writing introducing each new section. Equally impressive is the setting of "Libera nos," the first of two written by Sheppard; it is a model of concise, highly expressive writing.

While other English ensembles (The Sixteen and The Tallis Scholars) sing this music with velvet tone (too velvety for my liking), the Choir of Magdalen College’s Anglican chuch choir sound (especially the bright trebles) makes this an authentic and edifying recording.

Craig Zeichner

  1. Vespers Hymn Collaudemus Magdalene lachrymas – Sarum plainchant – [3:45]
  2. Stabat mater – Richard Davy (d. 1538) – [15:10]
  3. Quales sumus – John Mason (fl. 1500-30) – [11:34]
  4. Aspice Domine – Jacquet of Mantua (1483-1559) – [5:56]
  5. Resurrexi III – Thomas Preston (fl. 1540s) – [3:01]
  6. Magnificat antiphon Inclita sancte Marie Magdalene, (Sarum plainchant) – Magnificat – Thomas Appleby (d. after 1563) – [14:49]
  7. Offertory Confessio et pulchritudo – Preston – [4:11]
  8. Dum transisset sabbatum – John Sheppard (d. 1558) – [7:22]
  9. Pater noster – Sheppard – [4:11]
  10. Libera nos – Sheppard – [3:02]