WORKS: Reincarnations; Agnus Dei; Wondrous Love; Two Choruses from Antony and Cleopatra
PERFORMER: Cambridge University Chamber Choir/ Timothy Brown; Jeremy Filsell (organ), Thomas Adès (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: GMCD 7145
Choral music formed a notable part of Samuel Barber’s output, and this useful collection reveals a host of enchanting miniatures, full of harmonic interest and variety. Above all, it confirms Barber as a wonderfully vital, warm and inspired setter of the written word.
Two evocative choruses from his opera Antony and Cleopatra, the first with a shy soprano solo, the second a lament with gorgeously strummed piano opening, are beautifully handled. The ingeniously contrived ‘A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map’, with its striding rhythms, shows off the Cambridge men’s voices to fine effect; and they manage the well-sustained long lines of the famous Agnus Dei just as tellingly.
The girls’ sound, if not always quite as crisp and mature, brings a shy charm and warmth to every item. ‘The Coolin’, from the Irish-inspired triptych Reincarnations, Auden’s ‘The Monk and His Cat’ and Barber’s lovely setting of Laurie Lee’s poem ‘Twelfth Night’ all evidence this. So too does a touching pair of Renaissance-imbued pieces: Helen Waddell’s ‘The Virgin Martyrs’, and Emily Dickinson’s ‘Let down the bars, O Death’. Thomas Adès makes the piano accompaniments gleam, and Jeremy Filsell concludes with three short Barber organ pieces, notably the reflective, medieval French-inspired ‘Wondrous Love’. Roderic Dunnett