Only a Singing Bird: works by Head, Carpenter, Deazley and Johnston

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COMPOSERS: Gary Carpenter,Ken Johnston,Michael Head,Stephen Deazley
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Only a Singing Bird
WORKS: Works by Head, Carpenter, Deazley and Johnston
PERFORMER: Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano); NYCoS National Girls Choir/Christopher Bell; Philip Moore (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Signum SIGCD 440

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‘Reams of twaddle’ was Holst’s description of the music being published for girls to sing a century ago. How times have changed: the premiere recording of Michael Head’s choral song-cycle Snowbirds (1954) is a work of considerable emotional nuance and, in places, technical complexity.

As such it proves a fruitful vehicle for showcasing what the Girls Choir of the National Youth Choir of Scotland is capable of. What’s striking is how evenly matched in quality the different voice parts are when they divide in the more complex writing – in the sweet, soaring lines of ‘Under the Bower of Night’, for instance. The fresh, open textures of ‘Only a Singing Bird’ are delightfully aerated, not least because the singers give the vowel sounds full value, and place concluding consonants with unfussy accuracy. All of this betokens preparation of high quality, for which NYCoS artistic director Christopher Bell, whose conducting is exemplary, takes much credit.

Of the other pieces I particularly enjoyed Stephen Deazley’s dazzling The Circus, which includes enthusiastic imitations of dogs barking.

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Terry Blain