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Penelope Thwaites: From Five Continents

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), et al; Ex Cathedra/Jeffrey Skidmore (SOMM)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Penelope Thwaites
From Five Continents – Missa Brevis; Reverie; Forestry; 5 Shakespeare Songs; Yaathum Oore Yaavarum Kelir etc
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), William Dazeley (baritone), Penelope Thwaites (piano), Ex Cathedra/Jeffrey Skidmore
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0612   72:06 mins


The Australian composer and pianist Penelope Thwaites (b1944) has risen somewhat gradually to prominence, but she is arriving not a moment too soon. All except one of these choral compositions and songs receive their first recordings in this set and to say they are lively, catchy and imaginative is probably not saying enough (though if you’re a stickler for hardline abstract serialism, you will undoubtedly disagree).

Her style has unmistakable roots in the English choral tradition but brings this soundworld an upbeat rhythmic sense and refreshing lack of pomposity. The beautifully wrought Missa brevis is a model of concise, integrated and well contrasted writing, with some inspired moments (the Gloria is irresistible); and the four psalm settings and the Shakespeare Songs offer vivid responses to their celebrated words – ‘It Was a Lover and his Lass’, for instance, unfurls over spirited drumming. It is only ‘India – Australia – Africa’ that seems a slight let-down as the music does not quite rise to the challenge of capturing alternative styles or atmospheres.

The performances match the music in warmth, directness and communicativeness, with Ex Cathedra in finest fettle and Jeffery Skidmore picking strong tempos and balancing the voices beautifully. The all-star soloists, Carolyn Sampson, James Gilchrist and William Dazeley, offer excellent diction and projection, and Thwaites herself is at the piano, ably supported by a sympathetic team of instrumentalists who pop up when required. Recorded sound is good, with just the right degree of resonance to enhance and not swamp the voices.


Jessica Duchen