ALBUM TITLE: The Marian Collection
WORKS: Works by Weir, Palestrina, Tavener, Andrew, Nesbett, Kendall, Byrd, Stravinsky, Tabakova, Jackson, Parsons, Martin, Bruckner
PERFORMER: Choir of Merton College, Oxford/ Peter Phillips, Benjamin Nicholas
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 34144
Threaded through this latest Merton College collection are four new settings of the Marian antiphons, all by female composers. Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir is the best-known of these, and the jutting vocal fanfares of her Ave Regina caelorum set a brightly celebratory atmosphere at the disc’s beginning.
The ‘sighs, mourning and weeping’ of the Salve Regina require more sober treatment, and Kerry Andrew finds clever ways of representing them in the ululations opening her setting, and in the keening of the interlacing glissandos she uses later. The seven-part writing of Hannah Kendall’s numinous Regina caeli is lucidly balanced out by the singers, with just an occasional touch of strain in nailing the tricky intervals.
Considerable demands are again placed on the choir by the different strands and layerings in Dobrinka Tabakova’s Alma Redemptoris mater. They respond resourcefully, the music’s constant inner pulsing consistently registering as a crucial energising presence. Of the other works the glowing Magnificat of 15th-century composer John Nesbett is particularly notable, bringing gleaming work from the sopranos in particular, although the men’s runs tax them a little.
Peter Phillips, who shares the conducting with Benjamin Nicholas, directs the Nesbett, and his vast experience also informs the poised, unruffled account of Byrd’s plangent Salve Regina, another of this intelligent and finely recorded programme’s many highlights. A firm recommendation.