Swayne: Missa tiburtina; The Tiger; Magnificat; Nunc dimittis; Missa brevissima; Ophelia Drowning

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COMPOSERS: Swayne
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Missa tiburtina; The Tiger; Magnificat; Nunc dimittis; Missa brevissima; Ophelia Drowning
PERFORMER: Philippa Davies (flute), David Goode (organ); BBC Singers/Stephen Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: 15312
Not easily pigeonholed by any of the labels currently attached to contemporary music, Giles Swayne, born in 1946, has followed his own path to individuality. Cry, his 1979 choral symphony and creation epic, signalled a voice that had something fresh to say. Much subsequent work, including the pieces on this Collins recording

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relate to this monumental achievement, though in many varied ways.

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That’s one of his gifts, the art of avoiding self-repetition, and in the traditionally conservative medium of choral music. The range is broad. The Missa brevissima gives a taste of his art at its simplest. By contrast, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis share the ebullience of Cry in a formal religious setting. Their wild sprung rhythms are compelling – early Tippett crossed with African chant. The Three Shakespeare Songs of 1969 show Swayne’s mastery of an avant-garde choral idiom at the time of its flourishing heyday. The taut, gripping textures of the Missa tiburtina of 1985 and The Tiger of 1995 are evidence that, unlike some of his contemporaries, Swayne did not subsequently turn his back on the positive lessons of the period, but has absorbed its finer points in a language that adds uniquely to the 20th century’s choral heritage. Nicholas Williams