Julian Anderson: Choral Music

Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber; Michael How, Luke Fitzgerald (Delphian)

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Julian Anderson Choral Music: Bell Mass; Nunc dimittis; Four American Choruses; O Sing Unto The Lord; Frescobaldi: Toccate, canzone, versi d’hinni, Book 2
Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge/ Geoffrey Webber (director, solo organ); Michael How, Luke Fitzgerald (organ)
Delphian DCD34202 61:54 mins

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This is ravishing. Choral music has long been an important strand of Julian Anderson’s output, but until now it has only been represented on disc by his Four American Choruses, as recorded by the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus. From the relative simplicity of My beloved spake and ‘I’m a Pilgrim’, via the delicious stretched tunings in the ‘Benedictus’ from Bell Mass, to the extraordinary sustained mystery of the Nunc dimittis commissioned for this disc, Geoffrey Webber and the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, shimmer and scintillate in conveying Anderson’s broad musical and emotional palette. It is clear that all involved have the kind of deep familiarity with these pieces that enables a sense of freshness and spontaneity, captured marvellously by Delphian in the beautiful acoustic of the chapel at Merton College, Oxford.

Commissioned for Westminster Abbey, Bell Mass finds Anderson relishing writing for highly trained choristers while reflecting the text and liturgical sensibility with typical expressive directness. Sung here with intensity and spirit, there is a palpable sense of joy in the ‘Sanctus’, delightfully lifted further in the ‘Osanna’ by the tinkling of the organ’s Zimbelstern, while the ‘Agnus Dei’ is truly affecting. This performance of Four American Choruses is strikingly distinct from the CBSCs recording, resonances of medieval and renaissance liturgy being to the fore in ‘Beautiful valley of Eden’. The inclusion of Frescobaldi’s Toccata quarta for organ, stylishly performed by Webber, reflects Anderson’s interest in earlier music. The disc as a whole is a feast for the ears.

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Christopher Dingle