A Ship With Unfurled Sails

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COMPOSERS: Gabriel Jackson
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: A Ship With Unfurled Sails
WORKS: The Voice of the Bard; Now I have known, O lord; O Doctor optime; Missa Triueriensis; Thomas, Jewel of Canterbury; Sanctum est verum lumen; Angeli, archangeli; A ship with Unfurled Sails; Aeterna caeli gloria; Ave regina caelorum
PERFORMER: Kaspars Zemitis (electric guitar); The Stat Choir Latvija/Mãris Sirmais


It’s easy enough injecting an element of fervour into choral singing, harder to do so without sacrificing technical accuracy. In The Voice of the Bard, which opens this Gabriel Jackson collection, the State Choir Latvija manages both a bristling ardour in its delivery of the text and a virtuoso response to the vocal demands of the setting, which include complicated unison melismas and semaphoric chant-rhythms of a type familiar from, say, Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha.

Tonally the choir has a slightly brighter, edgier finish than most European or American ensembles, with less emphasis on homogeneous blending of the different voice parts. That doesn’t, however, stop it singing very beautifully where necessary, for example in Now I have known, O Lord, where Jackson’s long, soothingly lyrical arcs of melody are sensually shaped and executed with impressive corporate unanimity.

The Gloria of the 2005 Missa Triueriensis showcases the Latvians’ ability to incorporate minute inflections of emphasis and dynamic within the broader sweep of a musical sentence or paragraph – there’s so much interesting detail, but it’s never incidental or more than is asked for.

An incandescent performance of the 40-part motet Sanctum est verum lumen sets the seal on this magnificent demonstration of the art of choral singing.


Terry Blain