Former King’s Singer Bob Chilcott conducts a stellar array of his choral music, in a collaborative performance with the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir. Described by the Observer as “a contemporary hero of British Choral Music”, Bob Chilcott works tirelessly as a composer and choral conductor – August 2012 saw the first performance of The Angry Planet in the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, and he has recently completed commissions for The Bach Choir, BBC Singers and National Youth Choir of Great Britain.
The Seeds of Stars
What people are saying
NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, Agnieszka Frankow-Zelazny artistic director
Bob Chilcott conductor
Release date:5th Nov 2012
Chilcott conducts his own music with Polish singers
The challenge to the performers in much of Bob Chilcott’s music is to make it sound warm, expressive and purposeful without it ending up like bland musical wallpaper or overly zealous displays of basic choral singing techniques. These challenges this Polish choir meets with great assurance; and while the programme does tend more to the easy listening than the intellectually challenging, the singers add just enough spice to keep it all moving with a clear but unhurried sense of direction. Perhaps the recording might have allowed a little more weight to be given to what are clearly fine, resonant basses, but in general the sound from the choir is well captured.
Chilcott’s music is understandably popular with choirs, and while he adheres to a directly accessible style with much emphasis on consonant chords, he has the skill to make everything just that little bit intriguing through an odd harmonic twist here or an unexpected melodic turn there. With a Polish choir inhabiting territory which is usually the preserve of those whose first language is English, there is a subtle shift in focus away from expressing the words to illuminating them through subtle nuances of colour and dynamic. Gentle pastel shades rather than broad primary colours is the order of the day, and under Chilcott’s own direction, they are clearly very much at ease with this music.
Occasional instrumental interjections (there is a soppy piano and a soprano saxophone in The Shepherds sing which, frankly, I find irritating), as well as gracefully projected solo voices (Ewa Wojtowicz is a deliciously heart- warming alto in the deeply lovely Lulajze, Jezuniu), add different colours to the disc but overall this is a choir whose sound is too richly enticing to need anything more than pleasing music and a sympathetic recording, both of which are much in abundance on this disc.
Gramophone, Marc Rochester
A group of seven carols starts this programme of Bob Chilcott’s choral music. They vary widely, from the softly undulating lyricism of The Shepherds Sing with piano accompaniment, through the stabbing a cappella attack-rhythms of Nova! Nova!, to the joyfully lilting syncopations of Pilgrim Jesus.
The Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, familiar from its participation in the Gabrieli Consort’s outstanding recordings of Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts, emerges extremely positively from this opening sequence. Freshness of timbre, individuality in the four voice-sections and genuine versatility of interpretive approach are major characteristics. It clearly helps to have the composer, formerly a chorister of distinction, at the tiller: the performances sound absolutely secure in intent and unfussily authoritative.
Other highlights include Simple Pictures of Tomorrow, an Eluard setting containing the most emotionally probing music in the programme, and Furusato, a charming set of five arrangements of Japanese folk songs, which sits neatly alongside Chilcott’s own comfortably tonal, listener-friendly idiom. The recorded sound is excellent, and Chilcott himself provides the notes on the music.Â
BBC Music Magazine, Terry Blain
Britain’s Bob Chilcott has become a truly international figure in choral music in recent years, as this disc richly testifies, with 18 typically graceful and arresting pieces written for choirs in the Czech Republic, the US, Japan, Newfoundland and Germany, sung with warmth and commitment by the Wroc?aw Philharmonic. The CD takes its title from a beautiful work originally written for 800 singers and players, with words celebrating nature’s renewal by the poet Charles Bennett, who collaborated so successfully with Chilcott in his environmental epic The Angry Planet at this year’s Proms.
The Guardian, Stephen Pritchard
Anyone who knows the name of Bob Chilcott will know that it carries with it the promise of the highest quality in choral music. The compositions of this former King’s Singer are unashamedly tonal, relying on great tunes and beautiful textures for their effect. He has a sound that is clean, transparent, quite Romantic, and very popular. His compositions are already beloved of choral societies the length and breadth of the UK and, as I learnt from this disc, from much further afield as well. This disc gathers together a range of Chilcott’s works sung by Poland’s Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, recently mentored and made famous on these shores by Paul McCreesh, not least through their recordings of Elijah and Berlioz’s Requiem. The combination of Chilcott’s music and the Wroclaw choral sound makes for a very special disc which is sure to attract any lovers of beautiful music well sung.
The first seven tracks are all songs for Christmas or Advent, and wonderful they are too. Three of them showcase Chilcott’s affinity with the poetry of Kevin Crossley-Holland. The Heart-in-Waiting matches the long line of the poem to some warmly expressive vocal writing. Pilgrim Jesus is lively and vigorous, as is the sparky Nova! Nova! which is to a traditional text. However, the finest Crossley-Holland setting, and perhaps the finest thing on the disc, is the beautifulJesus, Springing, an archingly beautiful expression of the poet’s meditation on Christ’s birth. Lulajze, Jezuniu is a gorgeous Polish lullaby, and The Shepherds Sing is a great way to open the disc, combining the choir and soprano soloist with a piano and a haunting saxophone solo.
After the Christmas tracks the fare is more varied in style but just as appealing. There are slightly unusual pieces, such as a setting of the Lord’s Prayer and a Hebrew and English setting of Genesis 8:11, describing the dove returning to Noah’s Ark. Simple Pictures of Tomorrow is a fairly serious setting of a translated poem by Paul Eluard. Happy the Man sets Dryden’s ode to opportunism in a gentle, reflective manner that lives up to the optimism of the words. The five songs of Furusato are Japanese songs, written for the Kyoto Echo Choir. These attractively combine Japanese melodies with western harmonies. The title track marries a direct vocal line with a sparkling piano accompaniment. Most interesting for me, however, was the setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem of bereavement, Remember Me. It’s a poem which I’ve always thought of as rather sombre, but Chilcott’s setting makes its sentiments seem more upbeat and hopeful – less of a lament and more of a celebration of the one lost.
The singing of the Wroclaw choir is excellent throughout, creating a warm, responsive sound that is harmonious and tightly knit. Some may want more daylight between the notes, but I loved the lush texture of their singing. They are captured beautifully in this acoustic, blending very well with the occasional accompanying instruments. Only in the solo singing can you detect the occasional accent to the language. With Chilcott himself at the helm, this disc is sure to appeal, and not just for Christmas. The booklet contains a note from the composer, as well as the sung texts and, where appropriate, translations into English.
Musicweb International, Simon Thompson
- The Shepherds Sing – Bob Chilcott – 3.37
- Nova! Nova! – Bob Chilcott – 2.51
- The Heart-in-Waiting – Bob Chilcott – 3.23
- Pilgrim Jesus – Bob Chilcott – 2.07
- Jesus, Springing – Bob Chilcott – 4.33
- The Rose in the Middle of Winter – Bob Chilcott – 2.42
- Lulajze, Jezuniu – Bob Chilcott – 3.54
- The Dove and the Olive Leaf – Bob Chilcott – 3.00
- Remember me – Bob Chilcott – 3.38
- Simple Pictures of Tomorrow – Bob Chilcott – 7.26
- Happy the Man – Bob Chilcott – 2.33
- Furusato: Sunayama (Sand Mountain) – Bob Chilcott – 2.35
- Furusato: Mura Matsuri (Village Festival) – Bob Chilcott – 1.19
- Furusato: Oborozukiyo (Blurred Moon) – Bob Chilcott – 2.29
- Furusato: Furusato (Homeland) – Bob Chilcott – 3.07
- Furusato: Momiji (Maple Leaves) – Bob Chilcott – 3.00
- Our Father (The Bread of Life) – Bob Chilcott – 3.43
- The Seeds of Stars – Bob Chilcott – 4.19