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LABELS: Delphian
WORKS: Missa brevis; Three Spirituals; Two Christmas Carols; Salve regina
PERFORMER: John Harle (soprano saxophone), Susan Hamilton (soprano), James McVinnie, Matthew Owens (organ); National Youth Choir of Great Britain, Laudibus/Mike Brewer
A single note twice opening out in a big crescendo to a wide-spaced, ringing discord; high clouds of sound created by free-time repetitions, floating over collective whispering and then powerful parallel chords. The Salve regina which opens this disc of sacred works by the British composer Richard Allain (b1965) immediately proclaims his unusually imaginative ear for choral textures. Although he can occasionally lapse into the conventional, as in the jazzily syncopated Gloria of his Missa brevis for women’s voices and organ, his music generally maintains a high level of originality and interest. Even the 23-minute Improperia for the Good Friday liturgy sustains attention, with the help of a clear refrain structure. Moreover, Allain’s inventive sense of colour doesn’t desert him when he writes for saxophone and organ, both accompanying a solo soprano in a Song of Songs setting and in the purely instrumental Memento homo. Mike Brewer’s two choirs, the 74-strong National Youth Choir and the chamber-scale Laudibus, both do Allain proud with confident, committed performances – as do the solo team, with John Harle’s plangent soprano saxophone to the fore. The recordings, made in a south London church and in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, are poorly matched in level but suitably atmospheric. Anthony Burton