In the Heart of Things
ALBUM TITLE: In the Heart of Things
WORKS: Mass for Eight Parts; Mary’s Carol; A Hymn to the Virgin; I Sing of a Maiden; Ubi Caritas; Balulalow; Lament
PERFORMER: Grace Davidson (soprano); Commotio/Matthew Berry
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572739
'Grisly musical McDonald-isation: bland, anonymous and… undemanding’. That’s Francis Pott’s frank opinion of much contemporary choral writing, his own presumably excepted.
Pott’s remedy is to give a distinctive slant to the polyphonic procedures of Renaissance masters such as Byrd and Tallis. You hear this idea at work in the strongly featured Agnus Dei, where there’s enough harmonic uneasiness to stamp a modern sensibility on the music, and a long, intense crescendo signalling disquiet of spirit. Of the other four movements from the Mass for Eight Parts, the tender Benedictus, with a pristine soprano contribution from Grace Davidson, is the most striking.
I Sing of a Maiden retains an overall lightness of compositional touch, but is a much busier piece, with complex part-splintering as the music climaxes. It’s a testing sing for the 31 voices of Matthew Berry’s Commotio, but there’s a relaxed clarity in their performance bespeaking fine technique and excellent preparation.
A Hymn to the Virgin references Britten’s setting and, like so many of the pieces on this disc, intriguingly blurs the distinction between contrapuntal development and fresh melodic invention. It’s difficult to characterise Pott’s music precisely, but the musical Big Mac of his gloomier imaginings it certainly isn’t.