Ascendit Deus: Music for Ascensiontide and Pentecost

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COMPOSERS: Elgar,Finzi and more,Grieg,Philips,Stanford,Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Ascendit Deus: Music for Ascensiontide and Pentecost
WORKS: Works by Philips, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Stanford, Grieg, Finzi and more
PERFORMER: The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; The Dmitri Ensemble/Graham Ross


If the opening track of this new Clare College, Cambridge recording is anything to go by, Christ’s ascension to heaven must have been a particularly brisk one: the famous setting of Ascendit Deus by Peter Philips spurts forward like a colt sprung freshly from a stable, the vocal decorations spinning vertiginously round like Monteverdi. It’s a bracing opening salvo, undoubtedly.

The same wide-eyed keenness of attack marks Vaughan Williams’s O clap your hands, in the expanded version with brass and percussion. Finzi’s God is gone up keeps the adrenaline levels high – sonorous work here from organist Matthew Jorysz – though I’m not sure about the choir’s extravagantly rolled Rs on ‘trumpets’. The Stanford motet Coelos ascendit hodie, though properly celebratory, is again almost too keen to button-hole the listener, the singers snatching eagerly ahead to the next syllable, imparting a slightly choppy quality to the enunciation in places.

Amid the muscular Christianity there are welcome oases of reflection. Conductor Graham Ross’s Ascendo ad Patrem meum is one of them, the stratospheric soprano saxophone of Anthony Brown piercing the layered choral textures, probing the mysteries underlying the observable events of the ascension period.

It’s an edifying setting, as is Jonathan Harvey’s Come, Holy Ghost, a treatment of the Pentecostal hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus, where Harvey’s part-layering provides a sung metaphor for the speaking in tongues that happened when the Holy Spirit descended. Giles Swayne’s God is gone up closes the programme, its scorching, affrighted drama drawing a particularly committed response from the Clare singers.


Terry Blain