One foot in Eden still, I stand

COMPOSERS: Maw
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Maw: Three hymns; Five Epigrams; Five Irish Songs; One foot inEden still, I stand
PERFORMER: Schola Cantorum of Oxford/Mark Shepherd

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Why so little, and so underperformed? These are the questions begged by this overdue survey of Maw’s choral music, covering a 32-year span.

Regenerative and Romantic, his music aches for a tonality lost that Britten, Vaughan Williams and Berkeley also felt keenly. ‘Ringleted youth of my love’, ‘Swete Jesu’, ‘One foot in Eden still, I stand’: these should be amongst the set pieces of English choral music, and I’d be delighted if this disc nudged them nearer this position. 

Schola Cantorum, Oxford’s premier mixed choir, connects deeply with Maw’s Romanticism, and gives a rich, sound-driven account. Tuning does fall short of Eden-like perfection at times and I’m troubled by the muzzy diction.

It seems that Exeter College Chapel’s acoustic, Hyperion’s microphone set-up and Schola’s vowelly choral style conspire to obscure all but the most egregious word. ‘The bells of Paradise I heard them ree’? Sorry?

Ah, that’ll be ‘ring’. Hyperion may, understandably, not have wanted to shine a spotlight on individual voices, but nevertheless the texts need to see the light of day.

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What Schola Cantorum do purvey, though, is what the fresh voices of Oxbridge do best, namely chordal resonance and absolute commitment to some vertiginous acts of vocal gymnastics. More Maw, say I.