A Song of Farewell

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COMPOSERS: Gibbons/Walton/White/MacMillanShappard/Dove/Morley/Elgar/Howells/Parry
LABELS: Signum Classics
ALBUM TITLE: A Song of Farewell
WORKS: Choral works by Gibbons, Walton, White, MacMillan, Sheppard, Dove, Morley, Elgar, Howells, Parry
PERFORMER: Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD281

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A daringly slow tempo – far slower than most choirs could manage technically – with no sense of strain whatever in supporting the voices; the little dynamic swell on ‘vengeance’ in verse two; a perfectly poised pianissimo to start verse three. Already in Gibbons’s Drop, Drop, Slow Tears there are numerous indications of the elevated artistry Paul McCreesh and the 22 singers of his Gabrieli Consort bring to this beautifully planned and executed programme.

In a fascinating interview in the booklet, Paul McCreesh discusses mourning and consolation, the themes that inform his choice of composers and compositions for A Song of Farewell. But his mix of English choral works from Sheppard to Dove and MacMillan doesn’t just work on paper. There’s also much emotion in the performances. McCreesh’s choice of sopranos who either have little vibrato or can eliminate it when requested has a palpable impact on the poignancy of the leading line in Morley’s Funeral Sentences, creating a natural sense of lamentation. And McCreesh has a knack of making telling textual observations without artfully ‘interpreting’ the music.

This intelligent unobtrusiveness of gesture produces a superb account of Howells’s Requiem, a work which can be featurelessly soporific. Here, Requiem aeternam II is shaped in a concentrated arc, climaxing with the soaring tenor line on ‘Et lux perpetua’ at the movement’s exact mid-point. Richard Butler’s poised, movingly restrained tenor solo in the concluding ‘I heard a voice from Heaven’ is worth a special mention.

So too is the breath control of the Gabrielis: not only do they effortlessly take the long opening statements in Parry’s Lord, let me know mine end without caesuras,
they do so while singing quietly, and working telling little inflections into the phrasing, gently prising forth the underlying emotions. They bring similarly exalted levels of technical control to Jonathan Dove’s Into thy hands, the sharply angled suspensions slanting high above the lower textures like shafts of sunlight glinting brightly through a cathedral window.
Among the shorter pieces, a soothingly inward In manus tuas (Sheppard) and A child’s prayer (MacMillan) rapt with drama and quiet mystery stand out. This is a superlative, unmissable issue.

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Terry Blain