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Cecilia McDowall: Da Vinci Requiem etc

Kate Royal (soprano), Benjamin Hulett (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone); Wimbledon Choral; City of London Sinfonia/Neil Ferris (Signum Classics)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Cecilia McDowall
Da Vinci Requiem; Seventy Degrees Below Zero
Kate Royal (soprano), Benjamin Hulett (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone); Wimbledon Choral; City of London Sinfonia/Neil Ferris
Signum Classics SIGCD 749   56:58 mins

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Here are two commemorative pieces drawing on texts by their historical subjects. Composed to mark the 500th anniversary of his death, Cecilia McDowall’s Da Vinci Requiem combines aphorisms by Leonardo and the Latin Mass for the Dead, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem about the painting Our Lady of the Rocks thrown in for good measure. With gently swirling, shimmering, beautifully orchestrated textures often imbued with a devotional mystery, the spirit is of a step on from the larger choral statements of Vaughan Williams. The Wimbledon Choral, for whom it was written, are impressive, with clear lines and luminous hush under soprano Kate Royal’s magnificent soaring lines in the beautiful Agnus Dei movement. Roderick Williams is typically compelling, notably in conveying the musings of ‘O you who are asleep’.

Seventy Degrees Below Zero was written in 2012 for the 100th anniversary of Captain Scott’s fateful expedition to the Antarctic. Vaughan Williams might again be thought an obvious reference point. In fact, with often unsettled tenor solo lines and some prominent horn writing, Britten’s shadow is stronger in this effective and touching work. The text combines Scott’s journal entries with specially written poetry by Sean Street. Tenor Benjamin Hulett sensitively captures the changing moods, from hopeful excitement via anguish to resignation in the heartrending letter from Scott that comprises the final movement ‘To his widow’. The City of London Sinfonia are sensitive partners to the voices throughout, while conductor Neil Ferris should be commended for his judicious pacing and marshalling of all involved.

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Christopher Dingle