Celestial Bird: Works by R Panufnik

Ex Cathedra; Milapfest/Jeffrey Skidmore (Signum Records)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
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R Panufnik Celestial Bird; St Pancras Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; Since We Parted, etc.
Ex Cathedra; Milapfest/Jeffrey Skidmore
Signum Records SIGCD543 56:33 mins

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This fine album of choral works by Roxanna Panufnik arrives in the midst of a celebratory year for the composer (including Songs of Darkness, Dreams of Light, commissioned for the Last Night of the Proms). Panufnik’s works present varied sound worlds, luminous settings of sacred texts and, in the title track, traces of Celtic folksong. Celestial Bird sets a mystical poem by Carmelite nun Jessica Powers with sumptuous harmonies that soar and sting, aptly showcasing Ex Cathedra’s magnificent purity of sound. By contrast, Salve Regina for unison female voices and piano is all about line. The work sets an extract of plainsong in an arrangement Panufnik describes as intentionally ‘very unplainsongy’, yet the piece captures, especially in this eloquent performance, the lilt and meditative space of medieval chant, albeit vividly reimagined. Other works range from the luscious Romanticism of Since We Parted (written to commemorate World War I) to the bittersweet lullaby A Cradle Song.

More problematic is Unending Love which sets a poem by Tagore and features South Asian instruments and Carnatic singer. The recording struggles to capture the multiple lines of this densely textured work with sufficient clarity. More satisfying is Child of Heaven, which swirls across a number of Indian modes in depicting the break of dawn. The work is elegantly shaped and full of warmth, rather like this disc as a whole.

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Kate Wakeling